Seventeen members of the House Capital Investment Committee paid a visit to Isle on Thursday Sept. 26 to consider funding to replace the Malone Island Bridge.
The committee has been touring the state, looking at projects that local governments are hoping to be included in the 2014 bonding bill.
District 15 state Senator Dave Brown and District 15A Representative Sondra Erickson were also in Isle to help plead the case for bridge funding. City engineer Tim Korby and Mille Lacs County Engineer Bruce Cochran presented technical data to the committee members.
Mayor Rod Schulz, council member Linda Dahlen and Mille Lacs County Commissioner Dave Oslin were also in attendance to provide information and urge committee members to seriously consider funding the project for Isle.
Korby summarized the project for the committee members. He said there are approximately 70 homes on the island with a population of about 200 people. “About a quarter of the population of Isle,” he said. He also noted there are sewer and water lines that are attached to the bridge. If the bridge should go down, that would create an ecological hazard, dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of sewage into Mille Lacs Lake.
“If the bridge collapses, the island residents would not be able to get to their homes or have water and sewer services available,” Korby said.
Korby said this is an unusual situation because most cities don’t have a municipally owned bridge. Most of them are state or county owned.
Oslin gave a history of the bridge. The wooden structure was built in 1964, before the lots were sold and the homes built. After 50 years the bridge needs to be replaced.
Committee members asked about local funding. The city does have $300,000 available from the county. That money was removed when it became apparent that the project was not going to be done in the last couple of years, as there were no matching funds. According to Oslin, when the project gets the nod to move forward, those funds will be reinstated.
According to information from the committee, that $300,000 is state money, as well as the $800,000 the city is requesting from the bonding bill. Committee members asked if there were any matching funds available through taxation.
The House Capital Investment Committee travels around the state every other year, looking at projects that need funding. Committee chair Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) said they are on the road this time for three days and each day is about 13 hours of driving and looking at prospective projects. She said the state has less than $1 billion to invest in projects, and that is not enough to cover the cost of all of the projects.
“We didn’t pass anything last year,” Hausman said, so that left a lot of unfunded projects. They won’t all get funding this year, but the city of Isle is hoping it will be on the receiving end.
Some committee members have changed their mind on funding after visiting a site.
When they saw the Malone Island Bridge, with the boxed-in water and sewer lines, there were sober comments about the need for funding this project.
While the committee members were on the bridge, a school bus drove across and Isle maintenance employee Jason Minenko drove a plow truck across the bridge. The representatives could feel the bridge stress at the weight.
The bonding bill will be voted on after the new year. The public will find out next spring which projects will receive funding. The city of Isle made a good pitch and had a lot of support from Brown and Erickson, who represent the city in St. Paul, Oslin and Cochran from Mille Lacs County and Schultz and Dahlen from city government.