ST. PAUL – The Minnesota Legislature’s Capital Investment Package was announced May 20, and it includes state bonding dollars for the Prairie Wetlands Environmental Learning Center in Fergus Falls and for the Fergus Falls Veterans Home.
“After years of lobbying for the Legislature to see the necessity of these two projects, I’m happy to see they’re included in the bonding package,” said State Rep. Bud Nornes, who authored legislation in support of both projects.
One of the key projects Nornes drafted legislation (HF3103) for was a designation of $7.7 million for improvements at the Fergus Falls Veterans Home, 1821 N. Park St. The final package allocated $637,000.
Although the allocation is not the full amount he requested, Nornes said making the list is an important first step. “Once a project gets some initial funding, the state traditionally continues that funding through its completion,” he added.
The project would provide an additional 21 special care beds; it would improve clinical space for No. 1 diagnosis; it would improve patient physical environments; and meet the demand for services, particularly the needs of its Alzheimer and dementia residents who comprise nearly 59 percent of its population. The project qualifies for the State Home Construction Grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, so the VA will pay or reimburse about 65 percent of the project’s cost.
Another key project in Fergus Falls is the Prairie Wetlands Center, 602 State Highway 210 E. The Nornes-authored bill (HF0278) requested $2.5 million, and will be receiving $2 million.
The appropriation, done through the issuance of state bonds, would be for a grant to the city of Fergus Falls in order to design, construct, furnish and equip the expansion of the center.
“The environment is one our most precious resources,” said Nornes (R-Fergus Falls). “This facility serves as an important educational tool to highlight the need to preserve natural prairies and wetlands, and has been a success.”
The center includes 325 acres of native and restored prairie, 28 wetlands and 4.5 miles of trails. The Visitor Center houses a 2,500 square foot exhibit area, the Bluestem Store, classrooms and the Great Hall - a multi-purpose meeting room. The center provides both day and residential environmental education and interpretation of the prairie pothole region for learners of all ages.
It is the first residential environmental education center operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and focuses on the understanding of prairies and wetlands. The Center is part of the Fergus Falls Wetland Management District, and is a cooperative venture between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the city of Fergus Falls and the State of Minnesota.
The Capital Investment package also appropriates funds to the Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls for roof replacement, installation of ADA-compliant features and other improvements.
Finally, the bonding bill features a provision to pay off the remaining loan of $447,610 on behalf of the city of Fergus Falls to fund the waste incinerator and steam heating facility at its regional treatment center. However, the provision is only available upon the completion of the final master plan agreement as approved by the city, the Minnesota Department of Administration and the Department of Human Services. Up to $400,000 of that may be used as a grant to the city to demolish the city’s waste-to-energy incineration plant located at the regional treatment center. It also designates $5 million to demolish and redevelop the regional treatment center.
The Capital Investment package invests nearly $1 billion in the state’s core needs. Higher education, roads and bridges, and the environment all receive significant investments.