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Legislature gives money to railroad rehab project from Chamberlain west

PIERRE — A $7.2 million appropriation to help rehabilitate the stretch of state-owned railroad line from Chamberlain to Lyman, including the bridge over the Missouri River, won final approval legislative approval Wednesday.

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The House of Representatives voted 65-4 for the package. HB 1041 now goes to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for his decision whether to allow it to become law.

The legislation combines $1.2 million for the bridge project that the governor wanted and $6 million that Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, sought for the line west of Chamberlain.

Wheat Growers plans a $40 million grain and fertilizer facility at Lyman if the track is rebuilt.

Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton, said there is "a crisis we've created in education and health care" that isn't being addressed.

"We need to switch around our priorities," Wismer said.

House Republican leader David Lust, of Rapid City, said the project is receiving one-time funding that would wind up in school districts' reserves if the Legislature gave the money to K-12 education instead.

Lust called the railroad plan "a very good investment" that will lead to "an explosion" of investment in that south-central region of the state.

Rep. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, asked for assurance from the House Appropriations Committee members that the Legislature isn't spending its way back into a structural deficit "like we did in the Rounds years."

That's not the case, said Rep. Fred Romkema, R-Spearfish. He is the House appropriations chairman.

"At this point it appears we will have a balanced budget. There may be some cuts," Romkema said about the fiscal 2015 budget that the Legislature is finishing this week.

The railroad money however comes from revenue in the current 2014 fiscal year, according to Romkema. "We will be balanced," he said.

Rep. Jim Peterson, D-Revillo, said he likes the project but doesn't want to see requests for more money for the project next year and the year after.

Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls, said the project between Chamberlain and Lyman is estimated at $20 million and a combination of funding sources will be used, including a surcharge on rail cars loaded along the line and pursuit of a federal grant.

"There are going to be some moving parts," Mickelson said.

Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, wanted assurance the money wouldn't be going to help a private company.

"We own the line. That's where the money will go," Romkema replied.