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Tugging at purse strings...

East Otter Tail tugged at the purse strings Oct. 29, as members of one of the state's most influential groups of legislators visited Perham.

Local officials pitched two projects to the group of State Senators, as they lobbied for more than $10 million in bonding money for the Highway 10 interchange and the Perham Resource Recovery Facility incinerator expansion.

Billed as the largest construction project in the history of Perham, the estimated $38 million hospital project broke ground Nov. 2. Construction will proceed, with completion expected in 2011, but local officials are pleading for an interchange at the intersection of Highway 10 and County State Aid Highway 34.

Delivering the message on the $6.6 million highway access project to the committee, headed by Democrat State Sen. Keith Langseth, was Perham City Manager Kelcey Klemm. He stressed the need for an additional access to Perham­-not only for improved access to the hospital, but for the 1,200 semi-trucks that roll in and out of the city each week to service Perham's numerous industrial concerns.

$5.4 million sought for Perham incinerator expansion

Second up for a pitch to the State Senators was Otter Tail County Commissioner Doug Huebsch-requesting $5.4 million in bonding money for the Perham solid waste incineration facility.

With expansion of the Resource Recovery Facility, by nearly doubling the capacity, combined with refinancing existing and new debt-the scope of the project is more than $28 million.

"Despite state-initiated efforts to reduce solid waste by 10 percent, landfill use continues to rise," said Huebsch, noting that it is up 68 percent in recent years.

"Landfilling is a thing of the past, and we need to get away from it," said Huebsch. Support for the project is snowballing, with Otter Tail County committing $9 million; Todd, $3.3 million; and Wadena County, $2.4 million. Becker County is enthusiastically joining as a partner, with a potential commitment of $5.3 million.

With the Perham facility serving as a central hub for four counties, very close to 100 percent of the region's solid waste will be recycled or burned. Incineration produces energy in the form of steam, which is sold to two Perham industrial concerns; or into electricity. Already, Otter Tail Power may purchase $2 million of electricity annually from the Perham facility, noted Huebsch.

"All four county boards have voted on this. We have good inter-government support-but we can't afford to do it on our own," said Huebsch. The counties are asking for $5.4 million from the state's bonding bill, which will be acted on in the 2010 legislative session this winter-spring.

Competition will be stiff for state bonding money

With $20 million in bonding money sought within his district alone, State Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Wadena, is lobbying for it all-knowing that there will be winners and losers.

In addition to the two Perham projects, Fergus Falls is asking for millions for a hockey arena and a major bridge project. Meanwhile, Battle Lake is asking for $400,000 for the Glendalough Trail to the nearby state park. Skogen's State Senate district includes Otter Tail, Wadena and part of Becker County.

"The committee gets about four times the requests than the money is available," said Skogen, noting that there will be about $4 billion in statewide bonding pleas-with about $1 billion available to allocate. "These (Perham) projects create or retain jobs, and that will be critical to the decision-making process."

Also, said Skogen, the inter-jurisdictional collaboration will put the Perham area projects in a good light-at a time when lawmakers from the governor down are urging for regionalization and inter-government cooperation.

Local officials were pleased with the reception they received from the State Senate committee.

"The meeting was very positive," said Mike Hanan, Otter Tail-Wadena County solid waste director. "One of the aspects that put us in a favorable light was the fact that we have four counties working together. That is the direction the governor and the state want to see."