The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 17, 2013

Waiting may continue for Mankato civic center

By Dan Linehan
dlinehan@mankatofreepress.com

---- — MANKATO — As the prospects for a bonding bill this year dimmed, Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges is all but resigned to waiting another year and making a seventh try for state money to expand the Verizon Wireless Center.

"I'm not optimistic that there will be time and enough will to move forward," he said. "I'm not entirely surprised. Are we disappointed? Yes. Each year puts us further back in the path in terms of the marketability of our center and the urgency of the critical needs to fully maximize the center's value as it relates to attracting conventions and keeping a quality hockey program."None of the three Republicans who voted for the bonding bill is from the Mankato area.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, has long supported the civic center request and said Thursday he was considering voting for the bill. But he was concerned about its size.

Likewise, Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, said earlier this week that he's not a fan of big off-year bonding bills.

The bonding bill included about $65 million for Mankato-area bonding projects. That includes $36.3 million for the Security Hospital in St. Peter, where the mentally ill and dangerous are committed. The renovations would have made the facility a safer place for state employees and the residents.Truman will also have to wait for $1.35 million to upgrade pipes that handle rain water and prevent flooding.

"Every time it gets to a half inch or three-quarters of an inch, our street floods completely," Truman resident Bill Zehnder said.

Eventually, the rain seeps into his basement. It's flooded maybe five or six times in the 30 years he's lived there. Sometimes, the sanitary sewer backs up and sewage pours inside.

Without the state money, the city just can't afford to pay for the $2.7 million effort to widen its pipes, Truman Clerk-Treasurer Monte Rohman said.Another smaller project that may have to wait is $2.4 million in upgrades to the Rapidan Dam. The money would replace the dam's remaining timber "gates" — structures that open and close to let water through — with steel versions.

These gates are opened when the dam's power generators can't handle all the flow. There are currently four steel gates and two timber gates.

"With the current (timber) gates, you have to destroy them to get them out," Blue Earth County Engineer Al Forsberg said. "The only time we've opened one, we had to take a backhoe and break it out. It's not a safe operation."

The project also would repair a retaining wall just downstream of the dam and would replace the windows in the old power house. Decades ago, vandals destroyed the windows and the county replaced them with concrete blocks.

Also included in the billl was $200,000 for planning the Minnesota River Trail between Mankato and St. Peter and $450,000 for a city of Mankato bus shelter.