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Renville County, Minn., wants state funding before taking on buffer law enforcement

OLIVIA, Minn. - The Renville County Board of Commissioners will be watching the Legislature to see whether counties will be reimbursed for enforcing the state's new buffer law before the county agrees to take on that responsibility.

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OLIVIA, Minn. – The Renville County Board of Commissioners will be watching the Legislature to see whether counties will be reimbursed for enforcing the state’s new buffer law before the county agrees to take on that responsibility.

At their organizational meeting on Tuesday, commissioners informally agreed they would not decide whether to accept the responsibility for enforcing the buffer law or delegating it until the intent of the Legislature on funding is known. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources is asking counties to determine by March 31 whether or not they will take on buffer law responsibilities.

The commissioners considered two resolutions on the issue, but took no action on either.

One resolution expresses concern that the buffer legislation does not provide reimbursement to counties, and represents an unfunded mandate. It affirms the county’s authority to enforce the law, but calls on the Legislature for an “appropriation of riparian protective aid.’’

The other resolution also supports county authority for compliance with the buffer law. It notes that water quality is best administered by local policymakers familiar with their home communities to “ensure a cooperative and efficient interpretation’’ of the law.

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The responsibility for enforcing the buffer law is expected to be significant in the county. The county is responsible for 767 miles of open drainage channel and 1,811 miles of drain tile.

The new law could require the addition of more than 3,000 acres of buffers along public ditch systems in the county, according to Larry Zupke, county ditch inspector. The buffer legislation requires a 16½-foot buffer of perennial vegetation along public drainage systems by Nov. 1, 2018.

The new law requires a 50-foot vegetative buffer along public waterways by Nov. 1, 2017. There is not an estimate for how many acres will need to be added as a result, but Zupke said it could be significant as well.

The 2016 Legislature approved funding to counties for the new buffer law responsibilities, but it was included as part of the tax bill vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton at the end of the last session. Many expected the tax bill to be approved during a special session, but one was never held.

During their informal discussions, the commissioners noted that they would prefer to keep local authority over buffer law enforcement. The County Board of Commissioners is also the county’s drainage authority and the local body of elected officials ultimately responsible.   

In other business, the board of commissioners welcomed Doug Erickson and Rick Schmidt as new members during the organizational meeting. They succeed Paul Setzepfandt and LaMont Jacobson.

The commissioners re-elected Bob Fox and Randy Kramer as chair and vice chair, respectively.

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