It was a room full of heavy-hitters. Federal officials met Monday to discuss ways to increase Lewis and Clark Pipeline funding, making good on a promise from the feds to communities left high and dry waiting for Lewis and Clark water.
“It's incredibly important that we complete what we started. And while we face tough economic times, we're going to make the economy tougher down here if we don't have enough water,” Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar said after the roundtable discussion.
“It's jobs in the short run. It's long-term economic growth and quality of life. And folks out here have done their share,” Minnesota Representative Tim Walz said.
Klobuchar and Walz were among the officials meeting with Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor about the situation. Local officials from the communities waiting for water also sat in on the discussion.
“In the past, we've been frustrated and upset. That has changed to anger and outrage. They are angered and outraged they have poured millions of dollars in advance and the federal government is leaving them high and dry,” Lewis and Clark executive director Troy Larson said.
Larson says if funding continues at its current levels, the pipeline may never be completed. Walz said he'd like to see funding levels top $35 million per year to finish the pipeline in 10 years.
“We asked people to pay ahead. We asked people to believe in the system and now we're slowing it down. And from a fiscally conservative manner, we can get equipment and workers cheaper now. Let's finish this project,” Walz said.
An audience with federal officials like Connor could be the catalyst to get money flowing for construction.
“They're looking at some different criteria so our project, which is so clearly a worthy one to be funded, can rise up in the rankings. And that's important to us,” Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar says she is co-sponsoring a Congressional bill to get major projects across the United States like Lewis and Clark the funding they need to be completed.