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Session 2004: DNR-owned shooting range among bonding project requests

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) Public shooting ranges are becoming an endangered species in the Twin Cities area.

Over the last decade or so, most have been forced out by suburban development. Private developers so far haven't stepped in to fill the void, so the Department of Natural Resources wants to help.

I'll guarantee you the governor isn't supportive of a bill that big.
- Finance Commissioner Dan McElroy

Agency officials have requested $1 million to build a shooting range in the southwestern corner of the Twin Cities, possibly returning in future years with similar requests for the other three quadrants.

"We realized that with development continuing, there will never be a better time for identifying parcels," said Maj. Chuck Schwartz, a conservation officer. "It's trying to strike before the iron gets any colder."

But getting the money may be tough this year.

Overall, lawmakers will sift through more than $1.5 billion worth of capital bonding requests, probably cutting about half.

The bonding bill is the state's equivalent of a credit card with a low interest rate. Reserved for buying things that will be around a while, it can take up to 20 years to pay the bill, so the costs stay small in any given year.

But money is money and state guidelines suggest that no more than 3 percent of the state budget go to pay for such long-term borrowing. This year, that would be about $940 million.

The chairmen of the committees that deal with bonding in the House and Senate both said they'll abide by that cap. But with a Republican governor and House, the final package is likely to cost less.

"I'll guarantee you the governor isn't supportive of a bill that big," said Finance Commissioner Dan McElroy.

Historically, the biggest slice of the bonding bill has gone to higher education and this year is likely to follow suit. Combined, the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system are asking for $430 million for everything from renovating science labs to building a recreational sports addition at Minnesota's Duluth campus.

About $190 million of that would be dedicated just to what's called "asset preservation," things like repairing leaky roofs and fixing other small problems before they become big.

"Higher ed will be far and away the biggest chunk," said Sen. Keith Langseth, chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee.

But other agencies and local governments are asking for hefty figures, too.

The Department of Corrections, for instance, is requesting $122 million, the bulk of which would go toward a major reconstruction of the state prison at Faribault.

The Department of Transportation wants $92 million, about $30 million of which would be used for bridge replacements.

Requests from local governments top $323 million, with Dakota County alone asking for more than $57 million.

And the Department of Natural Resources is asking for $110 million for things like flood prevention, wildlife area land acquisition and state park buildings rehabilitation.

The shooting range is the agency's 21st priority on a list of 27, but DNR shooting range coordinator Chuck Niska said it's a matter of safety. While there are more than 300 ranges in the state, only a handful remain in the most populous area.

A DNR-owned, privately run facility would allow 3,000 to 4,000 people a year to receive firearm training instruction. Between the metropolitan area and Glencoe, for instance, there are no known facilities providing the public with a chance to test their guns before heading into the field to hunt.

"We'll let them come forward and make the argument and see if they can persuade us," said Rep. Phil Krinkie, chairman of the House Capital Investment Committee.

He said it was too early to comment on the range specifically, but that the Legislature's priority should be to maintain and preserve what the state already has.

"It's more important to put the roof on something we have than to build something new," he said. "I think what I'm going to remind my colleagues is this is borrowing. You've got to pay this money back with interest. Be careful what you borrow."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty will release his list of recommendations Jan. 15. Then, the House and Senate will craft their own bills, which will need to be reconciled later during the session.

Some projects for which capital bonding money has been requested: -$12.2 million: Improvements to the Minnesota Zoo.

-$3.5 million: Build eight to 10 new boat access sites, rehabilitate about 10 more and build 20 to 25 new fishing piers and shorefishing sites.

-$19.1 million: Build a new, 150-bed segregation unit at the state prison in Stillwater.

-$74.8 million: Demolish buildings at the prison in Faribault and build five new 416-bed prison units.

-$24 million: Build a new planetarium and space discovery center in Minneapolis to replace the facility that closed last year.

-$13.5 million: Relocation and repair of buildings damaged by floods in Roseau last summer.

-$700,000: Predesign to determine where a new state building should be built in greater Minnesota.

-$30 million: Build a 22-mile, high-speed bus route from Minneapolis to Rogers.

-$274.8 million: Various projects at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, including the renovation of many science laboratories.

-$155.4 million: Various projects at the University of Minnesota, including $8 million to build, furnish and equip an addition to the sports and health center at the Duluth campus.

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