Money for dredging, treatment plant included in approved House public infrastructure package

Mar. 7—Funding for two Albert Lea projects was included in the $1.9 billion public infrastructure package approved Monday by the Minnesota House with bipartisan support.

The bill includes $9 million for the final phase of dredging on Fountain Lake, as well as $2 million toward the city's new wastewater treatment plant.

District 23A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, described the bill as a fair one that passed with both GOP and DFL projects. It passed 98-36.

The overall package was split between one piece of legislation that called for $1.5 billion in borrowing, known as a bonding bill, and another that totaled about $400 million in cash. Other projects across the state in the package included $245 million for transportation projects, nearly $175 million for the Department of Natural Resources for state parks and trails, over $87 million for water infrastructure projects and $72 million for rehabbing public housing, among others.

Bennett said the package essentially took the bonding bill from last year that did not pass before the end of the session and updated it with increased costs. She anticipated an additional bonding bill either later this year or next year that she planned to lobby for the remainder of the Albert Lea wastewater treatment plant funding, as well as funding for other projects in a few smaller communities in Freeborn County.

The bill will next go to the Senate for consideration.

"We'll have to really work hard to keep our local projects in there," Bennett said.

The two Albert Lea projects have been influx without the passage of a bonding bill since 2020.

Active dredging on Fountain Lake began in 2018. The first two phases were funded by an initial $7.5 million in bonding appropriation and $9.5 million in local option sales tax funds.

The final phase of the project includes the east basin of the main bay, Bancroft Channel and parts of Bancroft Bay. Costs are higher than initially anticipated for this portion because the dredge had to be removed from the lake because the funding was not available.

Estimated costs for Albert Lea's new wastewater treatment plant have also jumped to almost $73 million as of last fall because of inflation.

Albert Lea's plant was built in 1981, and in addition to aging infrastructure is facing new regulations from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for phosphorus removal. City officials last year lobbied the state for $30 million in state bonding, describing the project as one of the largest issues facing Albert Lea for some time.

Bennett said the $2 million included in the House bill would go toward constructing and equipping the new preliminary treatment building at the treatment facility, including improvements to receive raw sanitary sewer at the treatment facility.

She said she is eager for the bill to get passed by the Senate and signed by the governor so that the projects in the area — and across the state — can continue moving forward.

She said she thinks bonding bills are important as they are how much of the infrastructure across the state is taken care of, which is required to be done by the state's Constitution.