Before the Minnesota House and Senate vote on the 2014 bonding bill, which could possibly direct several million dollars toward local projects, representatives from the cities of Lanesboro and Preston visited the Capitol on March 4 to ensure their voices were heard.

National Trout Center

Preston Tourism director Kathy Dahl represented the interests of the National Trout Center, which is seeking $4 million to build a permanent home along the Root River. The total cost of land acquisition, land rehabilitation and building construction is expected to cost approximately $3.5 million. Currently, the NTC operates at $53,000 per year in a facility along St. Anthony Street in downtown Preston. A new building would signal the addition of a full-time director along with two full-time administrative assistants. Currently, the NTC has a half-time program coordinator who works only during open water season.

The NTC has dealt with financial issues, cutting a full-time programming director position in 2013. City council members have been in favor of the vision of the NTC, but have voiced concerns about current fundraising efforts. There are worries that operating a new facility would become difficult if fundraising does not pick up.

Board of Directors member George Spangler explained that with a reduced budget, as the NTC is operating under currently, a full-fledged fundraising effort would be difficult to run. The NTC's Board of Directors recently added Al Barton to their ranks, who has extensive professional fundraising experience with several organizations, including the Diabetes Association of Minnesota.

Dahl explained that if no bonding monies come down, the current programming and hours of the NTC will not change much.

The NTC hosted the House Capital Investment Committee during its tour throughout Southeast Minnesota on Oct. 8. The feeling the NTC had about its chances for funding then were about as high as they have been since. Dahl said the NTC's $4 million request is their optimistic goal, but that it isn't necessarily their expectation.

"Our hope is that we can at least secure some monies for the land purchases and clean-up efforts," she said.

Dahl visited with Rep. Greg Davids and Sen. Jeremy Miller at the Capitol in separate meetings throughout the day. She reported that both legislators received her comments though neither were able to promise anything.

There is almost $3 billion being requested by projects throughout the state and it is not clear if Gov. Mark Dayton will get his preferred almost $1 billion bonding bill, which would fund improvements in higher educational facilities and infrastructure throughout Minnesota.

Dahl dropped off spreadsheets at the Capitol detailing the NTC's fiscal plan for operating a new facility and cost estimates for the three phases of the project.

"I think we have support in both (houses) and seems to have been that way from the start," stated Dahl, confident that the results coming later in March will be a positive one for the future of the NTC.

Lanesboro dam/fish hatchery

Representing the interests of the Lanesboro Dam project and Lanesboro Fish Hatchery was Lynn Susag from the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce. She met with Miller and Davids as well.

The 1868 Stone Mill Dam has been on the radar of both capital investment committees due to its health and safety implications. During a December stop in Lanesboro, the Senate Capitol Investment Committee heard from City Administrator David Todd that the dam had been identified as a high hazard structure by the Department of Natural Resources in 2010. Failure of the gravity-arch structure would signal massive damages sustained in downtown Lanesboro, including possible human casualties.

The dam is also considered the historic centerpiece of the city and would be restored according to historic preservation standards. It also provides around 700,000 kilowatt hours in annual hydroelectric power. The city is requesting $1.4 million for the roughly $2.2 million project.

Todd's feelings on the likelihood of state bonding for their project are much like everyone else's in the state. "It's hard to say, but we're keeping our fingers crossed," he said. "We hope they feel the project is a necessity, not just for the economy, but for safety."

The city recently had a short video clip created explaining the dam project and the city's request. The video was submitted to the Senate Capital Investment Committee, which uploaded to a website set aside specifically for all the bonding bill project requests. The website is Build.mn and is open to public viewing.

Todd said the public website was a great idea and helped keep projects on a competitive and transparent playing field.

Susag said she also spoke to legislators about the fish hatchery's $1.5 million request, which would go toward infrastructure and operations improvements. Some buildings had sustained damage during the June 23, 2013, flood and issues with radon and nitrogen levels need improved mitigation strategies.

Parks and trails

Both Susag and Dahl also lent their support to the main cause of the day as it was Parks and Trails Day On the Hill. There is approximately $60 million being requested for parks and trails projects throughout the state.

Representation from 12 trail groups in the state spoke to legislators about their desires to extend their trail systems.

Parks and trails currently have access to funds through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that was approved in 2008.

The Root River State Trail was highlighted as a trail system that has had a significant amount of rehabilitation work done. It, along with a few other trail systems were given as examples of a 20-year rehabilitation plan, which seeks to improve trails that haven't had work done for 20 years.

Susag said the maintenance work done for the Root River Trail had made a big difference and that there are many other communities who have since recognized similar needs.

With several projects wrapped up in trails, dams and trout, each are looking more like dollar signs as the legislative session continues on.