Darwin twine ball stop

Though there was no funding request, members of the Minnesota House of Representatives Capital Investment Committee made a brief stop at the twine ball in Darwin between stops in Litchfield, Hutchinson and Cokato. Included in the group is state Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, seventh from left.

Minnesota legislators made stops in Litchfield, Hutchinson and Cokato last week as they gathered information about potential construction projects in the region ahead of the next legislative session.

“We’re looking at a lot of projects,” state Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, said. “We have over $6 billion in requests.”

Urdahl spoke Friday while aboard a bus carrying fellow legislators who make up the capital investment committee in the House. He said the group was in the ninth day of a 14-day tour of the state.

Requests for state financial assistance involve all manner of infrastructure projects, from communities large and small. The task for legislators, Urdahl said, is to determine the return on investment of each project as they try to determine who gets what in terms of state funds.

“One thing we have to weigh is how much money do we put into some of these small towns,” Urdahl said. During one stop last week, legislators heard about a wastewater project in a small town, the cost of which would equate to about $70,000 per resident.

“It was a needed project … but if we did it, it was $70,000 a person in state money. Those are tough decisions. They need the help; they can’t afford it from their town. But what is a good expenditure of state money? There are a lot of factors you balance.”

While in Litchfield, legislators toured the Opera House and First District Association. The Opera House tour was an opportunity for legislators to see how state funding has helped transform the 121-year-old building from a slowly deteriorating structure that at one time was threatened by the wrecking ball into a facility used for theater and live music performances, as well as other gatherings like wedding and graduation receptions, and other events.

At First District Association, legislators heard about the dairy processor’s need for an expanded municipal wastewater facility to handle the increased volume from the cooperative’s recently completed expansion to 7 million pounds of milk processed per day.

“They were impresse by the First District presentation,” Urdahl said of his colleagues. “It was eye-opening for them to see how much and how many areas First Distirct has a presence.”

While in Cokato, the group heard about a request for funding for “phase 2” of a Dassel-Cokato wellness center. The Hutchinson stop included information about needed expansion for mechanics and fueling upgrades at the McLeod County Highway Department/Hutchinson Transportation Services facility, as well as Otter and Campbell lakes restoration and a Civil Air Patrol hangar.

Lawmakers typically make about 18 stops per bus trip, Urdahl said. Last week, along with Litchfield, Hutchinson and Cokato, the tour wound through Willmar, Redwood Falls, Granite Falls, Pipestone, Mankato, North Mankato and Waterville.

And many times, the tours include second, third or fourth visits and presentations on projects. One of the stops this year was at Minnesota State University Moorhead, where legislators heard a request for funding for the fourth time.

“Eventually, it’s kind of a process of wearing us down,” Urdahl said. “It’s not uncommon to have multiple visits to a place.”

No matter how much “wearing down,” however, legislators still have to make sometimes-difficult decisions about what projects deserve funding.

“Obviously, we’re not going to spend $6 billion,” Urdahl said. “It will be much less than that. We have to balance what the needs really are, and what makes sense to do.”