Rep. Greg Davids invited members of the House Capital Investment Committee (bonding committee) to Fillmore County to learn about capital projects in the county. The committee made three stops during their September 6 tour, including the Chatfield Center for the Arts in Chatfield, the DNR Fish Hatchery near Lanesboro, and Niagara Cave south of Harmony.
Center for the Arts
F. Mike Tuohy asked the committee, while standing on the auditorium stage, to take a look at what we have done over the last nine years. City Clerk Joel Young reviewed the work accomplished during Phase I which was substantially completed a year ago. Over $5.3 million of state funds were used for Phase I. Much of that work included necessary updates to systems that are not visible to the public including the electrical and HVAC systems.
Michael Martin said to the committee, “We spent a lot of your money, but we spent it well.” He said Phase I turned out magnificent, noting the incredible acoustics in the auditorium. We have a long way to go. We are asking for $7.895 million to complete the development of the Center for the Arts.
Plans for Phase II include a lobby space to accommodate 700 people, a connecting space between the two buildings. The plan is for a two story atrium, a glass entry on both sides, Main St. and Twiford St. Also, there are plans for additional restrooms on the second floor. There is to be a box office and concession stand in the lobby area.
Jenni Peterson-Brant and her husband Eric envision use of space in the 1916 school building for activities and projects that can bring the community together. They encourage thinking outside of the box.
Young listed reasons to be involved including arts, economy, education, and preservation. The predesign work is done; “We are shovel ready.”
DNR Fish Hatchery – Lanesboro
Kent Lokkesmoe, director of capital investment for DNR, welcomed the committee noting that this is one of four cold water fish hatcheries in Minnesota. The hatchery infrastructure is old and in need of repair and upgrades. The ask for the hatchery is about $5 million to construct a new hatchery, office, residence, and nursery.
This hatchery produces about 710,000 rainbow and brown trout annually.
Pat Schmidt, who has very recently retired after 41 years with the hatchery, said that fish raised here stock streams and lakes statewide. The hatchery raises 60% of the trout raised in Minnesota. The hatchery gets a lot of visitors including school groups.
Reconstruction should take care of flooding issues. In 2013 the office was flooded with over a foot of water. A new structure would be raised three feet higher. Schmidt described issues with the super saturation of water with nitrogen gas. To decrease this the water is aerated, which releases radon gas, a safety hazard. They need funds to build a stripping station outside to get rid of nitrogen gas and radon.
The office was built in 1954 and is very energy inefficient. I-beams that hold up the nursery ceiling are rusting through. Schmidt called attention to the red lights. The fish feed mostly during dusk to dawn conditions and the red lighting simulates those conditions. Black tanks were found to calm fish down compared to white tanks. Mortality was greatly reduced with the dark tanks. The nursery building would need to be replaced after March and be completed by November.
The hatchery is located where it is because of the natural spring water which remains at 48 degrees Fahrenheit year round. The spring is covered to maintain bio-security. This structure is also failing.
Harmony and Preston Trails
The committee met at Niagara Cave where there is an effort to extend the existing trail from Harmony to Niagara Cave to the Iowa border. This step could lead to a link of the existing Harmony-Preston Valley Trail to the Northeast Iowa trail system. Local residents were present in support of the trail extension.
Chris Giesen, Harmony EDA coordinator, introduced EDA president Chris Skaalen. Skaalen explained all the land options are in place, making it a shovel ready project. Now, we need the funding for it. The Minnesota DNR estimates the six mile extension will cost $1.5 million. The options to purchase the land expire in 2019.
Mark Bishop, whose family owns the cave, said the cave is on track to become a National Landmark. In a USA Today Readers’ Choice “Best Cave in USA” survey, Niagara Cave was ranked second. The cave has drawn 30,000 visitors in a year. Visitors have come from all 50 states and 60 to 80 countries. Bishop thanked the landowners, noting they are the ones that make the trail possible.
Jason Passmore, a CEDA employee for Howard County in Iowa, said there is a 22-mile paved trail from Cresco to Calmar. We want to connect on to it. The cross border trail system could be beneficial for the tourist economy in both states.
Preston City Administrator Joe Hoffman asked the committee to consider funding a shovel ready trail from Preston to Carimona. Craig Blommer, an area supervisor for the DNR, has said the Preston to Forestville segment will be the most scenic part of the Blufflands trail system. The state already owns the land for the segment of the trail to Carimona. The legislature has already invested about a million putting in two bridges and a portion of the trail which ends outside of Preston (about 20% of this segment of the trail). Hoffman stated it will cost about $5 million to extend the trail to Carimona.
Preston Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Director Gabby Kinneberg maintained extending the trail would be a huge benefit to Preston tourism. The tourism industry has brought $20 million to Fillmore County. Dwight Luhmann called the trail a huge asset to the community. Steve Corson added that his family wouldn’t have invested in housing in Preston without the trail. Dan Christianson suggested the trail really helped the economy in Lanesboro during the agricultural crisis in the ‘80s. He suggested the return on investment by extending the trail would be tremendous.
Rep. Davids thanked the bonding committee. He said the Harmony extension is ready to go and can hook up with Iowa, Preston expansion is shovel ready, and everything is in place legislatively.