Gov. Walz Visits Hibbing on Bonding Tour

Governor hears bonding request from DNR for $9.5 million.

HIBBING, Minn.- On Monday Governor Tim Walz made a stop at the Hibbing Airtanker Base as part of his bonding tour, as the State of Minnesota has over $3 billion in available bonding capacity for 2020-2021.

The Governor heard a bonding request form the Minnesota DNR’s Wildire Aviation Divison for $9.5 million to make repairs at the Hibbing Airtanker Base, and construct new buildings in Grand Rapids and Brainerd.

All to help crews in their fight against wildfires from the air.

“Once again we’re here to show Minnesotans this protects the whole state,” Gov. Walz said.

He heard about the work the Division of Forestry and Wildfire Aviation does, which included responding to almost 200 wildfires in 2016, and saving 130 residences.

“We hope we never have to use those things but hope’s not a plan and we need to be prepared to do the best we can make sure that these folks–again dangerous work they’re doing putting their lives on the line flying round the clock scooping water out of lakes putting out fires,” said the Governor.

His team also heard about the renovations needed for replacing the decaying aircraft ramp in Hibbing, which officials said is reducing weight capacity and compromising safety.

“They’re, not only does it have the cracks, but it’s not level any longer either,” said Paul Lundgren, Wildfire Section Manager for the Division of Forestry. “And so we need to address that, we’ve identified it in the past as one of the top priorities, we have to make sure we stay operational here.”

As the next bonding year nears, officials said these renovations are high on their list.

“This next year 2020 is the big bonding bill year,” Kent Lokkesmoe, DNR Director of Capital Investment said. “So we’ve made a formal request through MMB and it’s for 9.5 million.”

“This is part of our wildfire operation center and safety’s important for the state and so this is high on our overall request for bonding.”

In the meantime, the Governor said their ears are open.

“They’re making do with what they have they don’t wanna waste any taxpayer dollars but they recognize this project’s been pushed back a long time and they wanted to make the case to us.”

As members of Wildfire Aviation await the funding for necessary repairs and construction to continue protecting their 45.5 million acre fire protection area.

“To make sure that what we have we can be operational on and if we gotta mitigate that to make sure we’re safe we’ll do that,” Lundgren said, “but getting it fixed now would be the best for everyone.”

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