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Douglas County crafting buffer compliance rules

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Minn. — The state's new buffer law was championed by the governor's office, but it will be up to local authorities to enforce it.

Representatives from Douglas County Land and Resource Management have been working cooperatively with other local and state authorities on a countywide buffer ordinance that would comply with the state's law.

The nine-page document, which spells out the Agricultural Riparian Buffer Ordinance, was presented to the board of commissioners at its regular meeting Tuesday morning.

However, after a lengthy conversation about the ordinance, the commissioners tabled the topic and no action was taken.

The ordinance is expected to be brought forward again at the board's Tuesday, Nov. 7 meeting.

Dave Rush, director of Land Resource Management, explained that Douglas County Soil and Water Conservation District has local jurisdiction and they are the ones who would do the enforcement. They are also the ones notifying landowners on whether or not they are in compliance, Rush said.

The deadlines for landowners to come into compliance with the buffer law is Nov. 1, but they can file for an extension. A waiver allowing for up to a one-year extension must be filled out and returned to the Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District office by Nov. 1.

As for enforcement, Rush said there are two avenues the county could use — criminal prosecution, where a landowner can be charged with a misdemeanor, or an administrative penalty order, which establishes a timeline for the landowner to come into compliance.

Authorities from the Douglas County Soil and Water Conservation District, Jerry Haggenmiller, district coordinator, and Andy Rice, district technician, said the district has worked hard the past year to get landowners in compliance of the new buffer law.

Haggenmiller said there will be very few landowners not in compliance once the Nov. 1 deadline arrives and that the people he has talked to haven't had an issue with putting in the necessary buffers.

Because the new buffer ordinance needs to be reviewed by the Board of Soil and Water Resources, Rush advised the board to not act on the ordinance just yet in case there are changes. He said many counties around the state will not have ordinances in place by the Nov. 1 deadline and that the Board of Soil and Water Resources is OK with that.

What is a buffer?

A buffer, also known as a riparian filter strip, is land with plant growth adjacent to a stream, river, lake or wetland. Buffers help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment, and are an important conservation practice for helping keep water clean.

All public waters (rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands) require an average of a 50-foot buffer of perennial vegetation. All public drainage systems require a 16.5-foot buffer. Alternative practices can be approved at the local level.

Zoning ordinance amendments

The board of commissioners did approve an amendment to the zoning ordinance as it relates to burning in the shore impact zone.

Burning shall be prohibited within 100 feet of the ordinary high water level of a general development and recreational development lake with these exceptions:

• A controlled burn to control weeds and promote the health of the shoreline vegetation. A plan for the burn and proper permits are required.

• A wood burning campfire less than 3 feet in diameter, designed to keep ashes in for removal.

• Agricultural zoned lands.

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