Minnesota county board lays out the issues on buffer law enforcement
WILLMAR, Minn. -- The Kandiyohi County Commissioners laid all the issues on the table Tuesday about the state's new buffer law. They have a lot to consider. Should the county accept the responsibility of enforcing the new law? What are the pros a...
WILLMAR, Minn. - The Kandiyohi County Commissioners laid all the issues on the table Tuesday about the state's new buffer law.
They have a lot to consider. Should the county accept the responsibility of enforcing the new law? What are the pros and cons? What will it cost? Will any money for enforcement be forthcoming from the state?
At the end of half an hour, the outline of a consensus was beginning to emerge, although it may be many weeks yet before the board settles on an official position.
Larry Kleindl, county administrator, said it's important to start talking about it now so the commissioners can have conversations with the public.
"This is not going to be an easy decision," he said.
Minnesota's buffer law will soon require minimum buffer strips adjacent to streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands and other waterways, including drainage ditches.
The law is set to take effect Nov. 1 on all public waterways. It goes into effect Nov. 1, 2018, for all public drainage systems.
The buffer strips are meant to reduce runoff and protect water quality. Numerous aspects of the law have been controversial, however, and some of the provisions have created a rift between agricultural and environmental interests.
Kandiyohi County Commissioner Harlan Madsen, who farms near Lake Lillian, has testified on the buffer law several times.
It's still "a moving target," he said Tuesday, noting that a proposed $10 million allocation to help counties enforce the law may or may not survive passage through the current legislative session.
Unfunded responsibility for enforcing a state law is not a tenable position for Kandiyohi County, Madsen said.
"If it isn't going to be supported by state funding, I'm not interested in doing it... If the money is not there, I will vote no," he said.
In counties that opt not to do their own enforcement, this function would be turned over to the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources.
The Kandiyohi County Board saw a downside to this too, however.
The county has invested considerable time and effort developing good relationships with farmers and landowners, Kleindl said.
If buffer enforcement is delegated to another entity, "where does that put you with the landowners and farmers?" he asked.
Roger Imdieke, chairman of the County Board, said he thinks "the vast majority" of county residents don't want enforcement by an outside agency.
Rollie Nissen agreed. "The people have a better trust in us," he said.
But like Madsen, Nissen too said he worries about the cost. The Legislature could provide funding in the short term but that doesn't guarantee the funding will continue, he said. "We need to have assurance that money will always be there."
Nissen also pointed out that enforcement will require time and resources regardless. "No matter who inspects and enforces, it's going to cost dollars," he said.
The picture on state funding to help counties with enforcement might become more clear when the Legislature adjourns in late May, Madsen said. "My preference is we wait... I think a decision before that is not prudent," he said.
Kleindl urged the commissioners to keep the dialogue going. Similar conversations have been taking place in county boardrooms across the state, he said. "Everybody has the same type of angst."