By Lisa Kaczke

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar last week discussed federal initiatives that impact Borderland as well as innovative projects planned for the area.

Klobuchar met Thursday with the Koochiching County Board and other officials to discuss a Renewable Energy Clean Air Project during a visit to International Falls Thursday.

Koochiching County already had the idea for gasification in place before the federal government became interested in energy initiatives, she noted.

The plasma gasification facility would use garbage to create energy and other valuable byproducts while at the same time reducing the amount of garbage Koochiching County sends to a landfill.

Klobuchar sits on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which she said will be helpful as the plasma gasification project moves forward.

Commissioner Mike Hanson said that the project has come a long way since its inception. He said he sees the proposal as a solution to a problem: putting solid waste into the ground.

John Howard, of Coronal, said the project has taken officials on an “interesting journey.”

The ramifications for the project reach further than International Falls and Koochiching County, he said.

“This will be a first for the United States,” Howard said.

The first key decision point for the project will be a feasibility study followed by a design package, Howard told Klobuchar.

The project was initially conceived with three partners — the county, state and federal governments, but the project now has a fourth partner in private investors, Howard said.

International Falls Mayor Shawn Mason told Klobuchar that the plasma gasification project is important to northern Minnesota and that over time, the project would help clean up the Earth.

In addition to the plasma gasification project, Klobuchar also discussed concerns about border travel and the status of a passport requirement.

Klobuchar’s office has handled more than 1,000 cases involving passport delays and problems, she said.

The No. 1 reason constituents call her office seeking help involves the passport requirement, she said after the meeting.

Klobuchar’s office says it is “saving Minnesota’s vacations, one passport at a time,” she said.

Most of the time her office can help, she said. The silver lining is that it shows the government is not equipped to handle the changes in passport rules, she said after the meeting.

She would like to see a delay in the implementation in the new passport rules and lower cost alternatives to passports, she said after the meeting.

International Falls City Councilor Tim “Chopper” McBride told Klobuchar that the Falls and Fort Frances rely on one another for recreational and social opportunities because the nearest big city to the Falls is 160 miles away.

Commissioner Chuck Lepper also discussed with Klobuchar the board’s concern about the impact wetland laws have on Koochiching County.

The county has lost 12 percent of its population and it has a lot to do with changes in laws for water and wetlands, Lepper said.

Most of the wetlands in Koochiching County are in their presettlement state and 2 percent of the wetlands in the United States are located in Koochiching County, Lepper said.

The proposed change to the Clean Water Act will “hurt us greatly,” Lepper said.

The laws regarding water and wetlands shut down development in the county, Lepper said.

“We are far different than the rest of the nation,” Lepper told Klobuchar.

Klobuchar also discussed the need for funding Forest Legacy projects and her work in providing incentives through the farm bill for people to take corn ethanol one step further to biomass-based ethanol.

Klobuchar stressed she is working for middle class issues, adding she would like to see tax credits for first-time home buyers and for college tuition, she said.

Meanwhile, the first-term senator said she is concerned about the war in Iraq, which has cost more than $300 billion so far.

“So many of (the soldiers) are from greater Minnesota,” she said.

In addition, she said it appears more men and women coming home from Iraq are in need health care.