When the water behind a dam starts coming out the other side, people start to worry.
People in Lanesboro have been worried for some time.
The Lanesboro Dam, built in 1868, leaks.
The dam — 25 feet tall, 220 feet long — was built with unmortared limestone blocks and is one of six of similar construction remaining in the country. Originally built to power grist mills, the dam was converted to a hydropower site in 1895 and produced electricity for the Lanesboro community for more than a century. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the dam is also classified as a ‘high hazard dam’ by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources — meaning it does not meet standards of safety for stability and its failure could cause the loss of human life.
Lanesboro residents worried that further deterioration of the stressed and aged dam could have negative impact on their tourism industry. Removal of the dam would affect fishing, tubing and canoeing, and sudden failure of the dam would have disastrous impact.
For nearly a decade funding to repair the dam has popped in, then out of bonding bills at the Minnesota Legislature.
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said he’s been pushing for the dam for almost a decade and in the last several bills it would have been included had the bill passed.
The $3.6 million dollar project to repair the dam in its historical form was included in the 2016 omnibus bonding bill which failed to pass the Senate.
Davids said it was ironic that the House Democrats were saying they supported the project and bonding in general, and blamed them for the failure to pass last year’s bill.
Davids was very adamant that the dam was in very bad shape, noting especially that it leaks, but was also very positive about the chances of having it included in the House’s bonding bill, and that the bonding bill will be proposed.
“There will be a bonding proposal coming forward,” Davids said. “It’ll be in there.”
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So far only the Governor has gone public with his proposals to include in a bonding bill, but did not include the dam project.
House DFLers are pushing for a bonding bill, and last week five representatives from the House DFL made it down to the Lanesboro Dam to talk about both the town’s need for water infrastructure and the legislature’s need to put aside the bargaining.
The representatives told a crowd of around 35 that there are many such projects in the bill, ranging from roads and bridges to education building funding and other local government projects, but it’s being held by House Republicans in an attempt to leverage the governor.
Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said they were there to show that the idea of a rural/urban split is manufactured and that projects in the bill benefit the entire state.
“We’re here to try to show support for our Minnesota,” Hansen said. “Particularly for the bonding bill we need to have teamwork.”
Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, noted that in addition to having to start in the Republican controlled House before going to the Senate, the House needed a super-majority to pass it, so they had motivation to try and work together regardless of the area they represent.
“It’s very Minnesota for neighbors to come together to help neighbors,” Liebling said.
The representatives were joined by Rep. David Bly, DFL-Northfield, Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis and Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley.
Last session, the House passed its bill in the last minute and it failed after Senate Democrats added light rail funding, an issue that wasn’t able to be resolved in time.
“This is the kind of politics we can’t afford,” Liebling said.