Friday, August 29, 2008

Rice Creek Trail Update

Anoka County Parks is now announcing that they have enough state and federal funding to complete part of the Rice Creek North Regional Trail in Lino Lakes. I had introduced bonding legislation in 2008 that would have provided about $2.1 million to match $1 million in federal matching funds. Unfortunately the Governor made a line-item veto of this legislation. However, Anoka County Parks worked long and hard to put some dollars together to complete part of it.

Here's what John VonDeLinde, Director of Anoka County Parks, had to say in a recent newsletter.

"For our readers who enjoy trails, I have some good news! After months of deliberations and meetings, final funding arrangements have been made for the first phase development of the Rice Creek North Regional Trail. The Metropolitan Council and Minnesota State Legislature have agreed to the use of $525,000 in Metropolitan Council grant funds (Environmental Trust Funds) for the project. These funds will match $1,050,000 in Federal Transportation Enhancements Funding. A total of $1,575,000 is now available for the project.

"The new regional trail will extend from the north end of Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve, at the site of the new YMCA and Lino Lakes Town Center development. It will extend south and westerly through the park reserve to an existing trail along Birch Street. From that point, it will drop southwesterly along the Rice Creek North Regional Trail Corridor, connecting with Baldwin Lake Park in Lino Lakes. The trail will be comprised of a 10’ wide bituminous path and several bridges and boardwalks. The overall length of this new segment is approximately three miles.

"This new trail will be an important connector in the linking of trails between Washington County and the Minneapolis park and trail system. This is the final “missing gap” in a 20 mile regional trail corridor. The second phase to complete the Rice Creek Trail is planned to occur in the next three to five years. Additional federal, state, and regional funding will be sought for that final two mile link. The future segment will extend from Baldwin Lake City Park, south and westerly to the intersection of County Road J and Lexington Avenue. In the interim, an alternative route on Ware Road and County Road J is being established under the current grant.

"When completed, the new trail is expected to generate about 400,000 annual uses. This is in addition to approximately 600,000 currently occurring on the existing Rice Creek North Regional Trail in Shoreview and Fridley. For people who like trails it will certainly be one of the most scenic and important trail facilities in the north metropolitan area.

"My sincere thanks are extended to the Minnesota State Legislature, LCCMR, Metropolitan Council, Transportation Advisory Board, and the staff at MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council for making this trail project a reality. Construction of the new trail should be underway by summer 2009 with completion in spring 2010..."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Latest Campaign Finance Reports Available

All candidates for the MN House of Representatives just filed a report of receipts and expenditures for activity through August 25th. You can view them on-line, including mine and those of my opponents, John Kappler and Mady Reiter. That way you can see who is funding the campaigns and what stuff we are spending money on. I believe another report is due a few weeks before the election. You can also view my 2006 and 2007 campaign finance reports by clicking on links to the right.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Department of Health, North Oaks & Vinyl Chloride

On Tuesday, August 26th, Senator Rummel and I as well as several other legislators attended a legislative briefing by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Every four years, the MDH goes through a rulemaking process to update "health risk limits" (or HRLs-pronounced "hurls") for chemicals commonly found in polluted groundwater. One of the chemicals that MDH has been re-evaluating is vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride is a chemical that has shown up in drinking water wells in North Oaks. The source is the closed Highway 96 landfill in White Bear Township.

In 2004, the MDH set the created a DRAFT HRL at 0.08 parts per billion (ppb), or 0.08 micrograms per liter. That meant that any well that had a concentration of vinyl chloride greater than 0.08 ppb would could be "red-tagged" as contaminated, leading to a variety of possible actions to resolve the issue, such as digging a deeper well, putting the home on municipal water supply, or treating the water. If a polluter could be identified and held liable, that polluter would usually be made to pay for the remediation by the MN Pollution Control Agency. Several wells in North Oaks were right at 0.08 ppb during the last few years. I need to point out that this draft HRL of 0.08 did not go into effect.

This year, after reviewing new data, the MDH is proposing a HRL for vinyl chloride at 0.2 ppb, which is less restrictive than the draft 0.08 ppb. My goal at the meeting on the 26th was to figure out why the standard is to be less restrictive. Had someone meddled with the data? Had the polluters convinced the agency to weaken the standard to avoid paying for pollution they had caused? Or was there some other reason? (I'm not a conspiracy theorist so I just offer those questions as possible ways to look at the situation.)

After much discussion, someone at MDH finally made a statement that made sense to me. Back in 2004, the MDH did not have conclusive data in their risk assessment process to determine what the real HRL was. With a lack of data, they chose to be more conservative in setting a "draft" HRL of 0.08 ppb until they could get some more data. What they said at the meeting is that they have the data now that they need to do an accurate risk assessment, and the assessment resulted in maintaining the existing HRL of 0.2 ppb.

The previous Health Commissioner got in hot water last year for withholding data about mesothelioma deaths in miners in Northern Minnesota, so the MDH seems to be bending over backwards to "show the math" of their work. So you can see just how MDH derived their new HRL on their web site. In fact there is so much information that it takes a while to get through it all.

If you have a well with vinyl chloride in it that is less concentrated than the new HRL, it probably doesn't make you feel much better. So I wanted to make sure interested readers know about public meetings coming up this fall where you can comment on the changes.

Public Meetings: The MDH will have a public availability session on September 15th from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. where the public can meet with staff on how these HRLs were determined. Having a meeting during the daytime is not particularly convenient for homeowners so I am going to request that they have some evening availability.

Other important dates: The MDH will print a notice of the proposed rule changes in the State Register on September 2nd. There will be a hearing in front of a Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on October 10th, followed by a comment/rebuttal period, a report by the ALJ to the Health Commissioner, and the Governor's approval.

Remaining issues: Vinyl chloride was one of several dozen chemicals whose HRLs are being updated. After this rulemaking process this fall, the MDH will be looking at 40-50 chemicals. There was concern expressed by one House committee chair at the meeting that the MDH needs to be reviewing a lot more chemicals every four years, and that inevitably leads to a question of resources, priorities, etc.

Late August 2008

My column attributed to wrong author: During the week of August 24th, the White Bear Press, the Quad Press, and the Shoreview Press printed my rotating legislative column on the retirement of the baby boomers but used the picture of my colleague Rep. Matt Dean for attribution. They will print a correction. Those are the breaks!

Schedule: On Friday, August 15th, several of my colleagues from the House had an impromptu meeting with Senator Klobuchar at the State Capitol. On Saturday, August 16th, my volunteers and I participated in the Blue Heron Days parade in Lino Lakes. In the afternoon I participated in the Business Expo at Lino Lakes City Hall. (The husband of one of my opponents was being particularly belligerent in front of our table. Tsk, tsk.) On Wednesday, August 20th, I visited the Lexington City Council to update them on legislative activities that affect the city. On Thursday, August 21st, I filmed a brief cable TV segment at the Capitol, and in the late afternoon I attended a retirement event for Milo Bennett, the Centennial Fire District chief. On Tuesday, August 26th, I attended a meeting of environmental advocates regarding rule revisions by the MN Department of Health on health risk limits (HRLs) for selected chemicals found in groundwater. In the afternoon, several House members, Senator Rummel and I attended a legislative briefing at the Department of Health about the rule revisions. (I'll do a separate post on that.)

Visitors: MPCA Commissioner Brad Moore and two other senior MPCA staff about some solid waste reports that I requested in legislation in 2008. We also talked about the Highway 96 landfill situation in North Oaks; Shoreview high school student about the legislature and elections

Constituent contacts: Lino Lakes resident about contracts for corrections officers; Shoreview resident asking about deductibility of disabled veterans benefits from property taxes; Shoreview resident upset about transit sales tax; Shoreview resident concerned about pesticide application laws; North Oaks resident about Health Department rule revisions for groundwater contamination; Circle Pines resident asking about home foreclosure protections passed in 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

Early August 2008

Energy interview: About two weeks ago I was interviewed by Senate Media Services for their weekly Capitol Report show. It appears on Saturday nights at 9:00 p.m. so I know you all watched it! (Ha, ha.) My segment was eight minutes and it was part of a 30 minute show about the energy situation generally. You can watch it on-line.

Test your citizenship knowledge: As an amateur genealogist, I got a newsletter from the Ellis Island Foundation. They have a Citizenship Knowledge Test on-line. I thought you might want to try it out! There are five quizzes of 20 questions each. (I got 98 out of 100.)

Per diem
: The recent letter to the editor dialogue that I am having with one of my opponents, John Kappler, has raised the issue of per diem for legislators. A 2007 blog post discusses this in detail and you'll see that I have one of the lowest per diems in the state legislature.

Vanishing Graduates & Minnesota's Future: I received a DVD from the President of the Chamber of Commerce and the head of Growth & Justice about how we are going to be short of college graduates as the baby boomers retire. It was a 30-minute video produced with Twin Cities Public Television that you can watch on-line. There is a companion web site that has lots of background information. Currently only 25 percent of ninth graders in Minnesota will end up completing a college degree, and even that is one of the highest rates in the country.

Rice Creek Chain of Lakes: One of the hidden gems in the north metro (and my district) is the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve in Lino Lakes. My family just went camping for two nights there, and what a deal! We almost had the run of the place because there were very few people there. Anoka County does a great job maintaining the facility.

Schedule: On Tuesday, August 5th, I attended a National Night Out "lunch" at Scandia Shores, a senior apartment building in Shoreview. (I don't think that they stay up late enough to have an evening event!) I had the chance to meet quite a few of the residents, but I'm afraid I was not as popular as the fire department when their truck pulled up. Oh, well! I also met with a group of about five constituents from the Centennial School District to hear their thoughts about education policy and finance, and met with about half a dozen constituents about environmental issues.

On Friday, August 8th, I attended the second meeting of the Legislative Coordinating Commission Working Group on Ethnic Heritage & New Americans. I'm the House DFL Caucus member on the group and Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) is the Republican House Caucus member. The purpose of this group is to propose ways to fully integrate new Americans into Minnesota, including into the work force. All the data show that we will be desperately short of labor within a decade. Members of the business community, academia, and nonprofit organizations are members. We had a productive discussion about how to accomplish our mission, and I will be heading up a subcommittee dealing with ethnic heritage along with Senator Patricia Torres-Ray (originally from Columbia) and John Poupart of the American Indian Affairs Council. Immigration will be a major issue in this group. Dr. Bruce Corrie of Concordia University, a member of the working group, has his own blog on the issue of "ethnic trends" that I am reviewing now.

Constituent contacts: Shoreview constituent concerned about drunk drivers; two Shoreview constituents and Circle Pines resident asking for investigation of out-of-state welfare spending; Shoreview resident supporting commitment to education to help Minnesota compete globally; Shoreview resident asking that the federal government re-open the 9/11 Commission report; Lino Lakes about transferability of college credits from one MnSCU campus to another; Shoreview resident pleased with my per diem rate; Shoreview resident about veterans' benefits

Friday, August 1, 2008

Late July Wrap-Up

Now that the campaign season has begun, I've been going door-to-door talking to constituents. My literature includes this blog address, so if you are here for the first time, welcome! The content isn't quite as packed with detail as when we are in session at the Capitol, but hopefully it will give you an idea of what I'm working on.

My metal theft law works: KSTP did a two-minute story on July 30th on how the law I wrote to catch thieves of copper wire, pipe, etc. helped in a major arrest. Three people have been arrested for stealing $25,000 of wire from the state fairgrounds. But because their ID had to be recorded and their pictures taken, they got caught. Wahoo!

MSBA Certificate: The MN School Boards Association recently issued a "Certificate of Appreciation for 2008" for my work with Senator Betzold to revise the state's conflict of interest statutes for school boards. Readers may remember the flap about the new Mounds View School Board member who was discouraged from serving because her husband was the lead negotiator for the custodial union.

Postage to be returned: During 2007-2008, each House member has $2,952 in postage to use. (That's $1,968 in 2007 and $984 in 2008.) I've used $849.21 and have $2,102.79. State law prohibits legislators from sending out mass mailings from the Capitol once 60 days pass after the end of the legislative session. So I will probably use maybe another $30 for various constituent response letters before the end of the year, leaving more than $2,000 of taxpayer dollars to give back to the treasury.

Schedule: On Wednesday, July 16th, I was interviewed about energy with Senate Media Services for their weekly Capitol Report show. You can view the whole July 19th show (my part was eight minutes out of the half-hour) on-line.

On Thursday, July 17th, I spoke at a luncheon for St. Paul Chamber of Commerce members from Shoreview, North Oaks, Vadnais Heights, and Arden Hills. We spent a lot of time talking about electricity, transportation, the foreclosure crisis, and water.

On Wednesday, July 23rd, I visited a work site for the Minnesota Conservation Corps (MCC). About a dozen MCC members--ages 18-25--were doing a shoreline restoration on Locke Lake in Fridley. Locke Lake is part of Rice Creek and is very close to where the creek empties in to the Mississippi. Rice Creek also flows through my district and so a lot of stormwater run-off from our area ends up in Locke Lake and the river. The MCC gets part of its funding from the state, and the agency is able to leverage that funding from other agencies to get critical conservation projects done at a relatively low cost. I was in the Youth Conservation Corps in the National Park Service in 1983 and 1984 so I have an interest in the MCC.

During the weekend of July 25-27, I participated in the parade in the Slice of Shoreview. For the eighth year in a row, I've set up the recycling program at the Slice. (In 2000, Target dropped off several pallets of donated water bottles, and they all ended up in the garbage, so I volunteered the year after that to help collect cans, bottles, cardboard, and grease.) Shoreview resident and Roseville recycling coordinator Tim Pratt helps me out also. Each year we divert about six to seven cubic yards of cans and bottles and about the same amount of cardboard, and about 50 gallons of grease that gets made into animal feed.

I have also attended a few other events and interviews for my campaign, but this isn't my campaign blog. If you're interested in my campaign website, you can click here.

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident concerned about meatpacking regulations in Minnesota based on recent Postville, Iowa enforcement actions; Lino Lakes resident about the state of the nation generally; North Oaks resident against some health care reform positions; Blaine resident upset about Ironworld report on KSTP