Much-needed fixes to the century-old Byllesby Dam are among the millions of dollars’ worth of projects that Dakota County is postponing because of a lack of state funding.
Like other Minnesota counties, Dakota County is changing its plans since the Legislature failed to pass a bonding bill this session. Some projects, including a portion of the Mississippi River Regional Trail, will go ahead as planned with the help of county funds. Others, such as dam upgrades and portions of a 200-mile greenway project, will have to wait.
The bonding bill, designed to fund public works projects across the state, failed to pass during the short legislative session. County officials hoped it would get through a special session, but that failed to materialize.
“We depend very heavily on cooperation from the Legislature on our bonding request,” said Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan. “These are important projects.”
Counties around the state are postponing projects from their 2016 bonding requests, said Julie Ring, executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties. And the longer the wait, the more expensive projects become, she said.
“When the projects get more expensive, it means that fewer projects can get done,” Ring said. “If we assume that the cost of all these deferred projects is going to go up by a percentage, we have to assume that they’ll just be able to fund fewer of them.”
Borrowing, begging funds
Funds for Byllesby Dam, designated a “high hazard” dam because of risks to safety were it to fail, were the top priority in Dakota County’s nearly $15 million bonding request.
The county has already borrowed money from its general fund to maintain the dam, located on the Cannon River on the border with Goodhue County. Dakota County officials asked the state for $6 million to upgrade turbines and the powerhouse at the hydroelectric facility.
Those upgrades would double the amount of energy the dam produces and bring in revenue to be used for future maintenance, said Steve Mielke, director of the county’s physical development division. Without that investment, he said, maintenance costs could fall to taxpayers.
Only one of Dakota County’s projects will move forward without state support: the Mississippi River Regional Trail western segment in Rosemount. It received about $1.4 million in federal dollars that will expire if the project doesn’t start this year. The plan now is to reallocate local funds from other projects to make it happen.
Other projects from the 2016 request — including an upgrade to the Big Rivers Regional Trail trailhead in Mendota Heights, fiber optics for county facilities and countywide transit improvements — will likely be included in the 2017 bonding request.
That means projects that might have made the 2017 list will be pushed down the line, Egan said.
“A domino effect is a good analogy,” he said. “Everything gets postponed or delayed.”