A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee says he can make a good argument to President Bush about the value of the Lewis & Clark water pipeline project, even though the president isn't a fan of the spending.
U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., visited with area mayors and Lewis & Clark officials about the project Thursday at the request of Stephanie Herseth, Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives.
"The president is not enthusiastic about domestic investment, and that is a shortcoming in his administration, but you have to take care of the home front," Hoyer said. "If you are safe from terrorism but can't drink the water, it isn't going to do you much good for very long."
Tying the project to jobs is a way to make Lewis & Clark relevant to Bush, he said.
"We have a job problem in America with 5.7 percent unemployment," Hoyer said. "This is a jobs program, providing critical services while also providing jobs here in America. It is the best kind of investment we can make."
Herseth and Troy Larson, Lewis & Clark executive director, told the group the project will bring about 3,700 jobs.
As much as Hoyer was upbeat about funding, he offered a realistic assessment.
"I can't come here and guarantee it, but I am going to work with Congressman (David) Hobson. We work well together. He is not partisan," Hoyer said.
Hobson, an Ohio Republican, is chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations subcommittee.
"Properly funded, Lewis and Clark will provide safe, reliable drinking water to approximately 200,000 people and 21 communities and water districts in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa," Herseth said. "It's essential to our water supply, our public health and our economic development."
Sioux Falls Dave Munson says the project transcends politics, but impressed upon Hoyer that Sioux Falls is on a deadline.
"Our deadline for water is 2012 in this area," Munson said. "We're dependent on Mother Nature to take care of our water needs. We are in a semi-drought, and to keep momentum going we have to be assured of a good water supply."
Because of that urgency, Munson says the city will make a decision in 2005 about which way to go in their quest for water.
Larry Diedrich, Herseth's opponent in the June 1 special U.S. House election, says he met recently with Hobson to discuss the Lewis & Clark project.
"Security funding for the Lewis and Clark project is of the utmost importance," Diedrich said.
"During my meeting with Chairman Hobson, we discussed the critical role Lewis and Clark plays in not only distributing water to rural regions, but also the potential it holds to create new jobs here at home.
"The chairman understands the significance of the project, and, if I am elected, has pledged to work with me on the issue."
Lewis & Clark is funded 80 percent by the federal government. The current price tag is about $376.76 million. Current annual federal funding is $17.5 million, but Charles Kuehl, chairman of the Lewis & Clark board, says they need that increased to $35 million to keep the project on track for a 2012 completion.
Mayor John Lawler of Tea and Mayor Dan Cotton of Beresford also visited with Hoyer to talk about the need for the project if growth is to continue in their communities.