Walz goes downs sewer to highlight need for water projects

Danny Rohloff, construction management coordinator, shows Minneapolis Director of Public Works Robin Hutcheson and Gov. Tim Walz around a storm tunnel beneath the ground during a tour of the system in northeast Minneapolis on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz went into a storm sewer Friday to call attention to his proposal for Minnesota to borrow $300 million to protect its water supplies by replacing aging infrastructure and upgrading treatment facilities.

The package was the second of four installments of his public works borrowing proposal for the 2020 session, also known as a bonding bill, which he says will total around $2 billion.

Wearing a yellow hardhat and a safety harness, Walz stepped into a metal basket and was lowered down a 90-foot shaft to learn firsthand what city officials deal with when it comes to clearing stormwater from the streets.

It’s a piece of the city that taxpayers rely on, but rarely or never see, Walz said. So much of water infrastructure is “out of sight, out of mind,” he said. He also said he learned during his tour of the newly repaired tunnel that a weakness in one part of the stormwater system can undermine the rest of the system.

City officials told the governor that parts of the Minneapolis storm sewer system are 100 years old and leak, creating washed out voids that destabilize the soil beneath the city, according to the pool report. Other tunnels are too small to handle the record-setting rainfalls the city has experienced in recent years, causing high pressures that can pop manhole covers off or flood streets.

Walz told reporters at a news conference beforehand that the water quality package in his “Local Jobs and Projects Plan” is aimed at helping communities clean up existing contamination and upgrade aging facilities to prevent pollution from happening.

On Thursday he proposed borrowing $276 million to invest in affordable housing projects. He plans to release his higher education facilities proposal Monday and his public safety and local projects package Wednesday.

The House Democratic majority is expected to offer a plan as big as $3.5 billion in the coming weeks, while Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Thursday that he’d be more comfortable with a bonding bill in the range of the last two, which totaled $825 million and $998 million.