State-owned lands cause for concern in Bloom Township, Minn.
WORTHINGTON, Minn. -- A trio of Bloom Township supervisors appeared before Nobles County commissioners in a work session Tuesday, concerned about the amount of land being purchased by organizations like Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited and t...
WORTHINGTON, Minn. - A trio of Bloom Township supervisors appeared before Nobles County commissioners in a work session Tuesday, concerned about the amount of land being purchased by organizations like Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited and then transferred to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The supervisors - Jim Joens, Kevin Onken and Kevin Schettler - said their two primary issues are money and maintenance.
The money, or lack thereof, stems from the change in the amount of property tax revenue for Bloom Township because of the change in land classification. Instead of paying property taxes, the state makes a payment in lieu of taxes (PILT). The amount of PILT can be changed every five or six years when the land is reassessed. The PILT payment is made directly to the county, and the county gives 10 percent back to the township.
In Bloom Township, where several parcels were taken out of production agriculture and converted to conservation lands, the change in tax structure has forced the township to increase its taxes, said Joens.
“The DNR keeps telling us how many thousands of dollars we’re going to get as a township and we’re getting virtually nothing,” Joens told commissioners. “In our township, between the DNR ground and state-owned and federal ground, it makes up over 10 percent of our land base.”
Joens suspects another 600 acres in the township may become state lands in the next several years. If those transfers happen, it will make it even more difficult for the township to raise the revenue it needs to maintain its rural roads and bridges.
“The township has to raise the levy because of all this property we’re losing taxation on,” Joens said.
He asked if the county would be willing to increase the township’s share of the PILT payment to 50 percent.
“No,” replied Commissioner Gene Metz.
Joens said he figured that over the next decade, Bloom Township’s share of tax revenue on the state-owned lands will be 53 cents per acre. On 600 acres, he said that would hardly be enough to purchase one load of gravel.
“We need to get some new county policies to control what goes on out here,” Joens said. Among his suggestions was to have the county place a moratorium on any new land purchases that would involve transferring the land to the state.
Joens said the lands now in state ownership in Bloom Township aren’t being maintained. He pointed to photographs of Jack Creek where willows, grasses and even a couple of downed trees are blocking the normal flow of water, and said the DNR doesn’t have the staff or the money to maintain the lands that have been given to them.
“Everybody wants to give them a piece of land and they have no way to maintain it,” he said.
Onken said 13 counties in Minnesota have already enacted such moratoriums.
“(The DNR) has taken over so much of their land base that they have no farmers left and no industry to come in,” Joens added.
Another idea Joens offered - one also implemented in a Minnesota counties - requires the DNR, for every new piece of property it acquires, to turn one back into private ownership. Joens said the end result was the DNR virtually getting worked out of the county.
“If we don’t get ahead of this, one day we’re going to sit here and ask, ‘How did we let this get so out of control?’” he said.
Aside from the financial aspect of the state-owned lands is the maintenance of their properties. Joens said he’s been in talks with the DNR since last August about maintenance - everything from removing brush and material from Jack Creek to spraying for mosquitos on state-owned land where 34 wetlands are being created in Section 17 of Bloom Township.
Regarding Jack Creek, Joens said he was told by a DNR hydrologist that the agency wasn’t responsible for keeping water flowing in Jack Creek. Joens said 17 square miles of upland flows into that creek, and with the willows and grass, as well as downed trees blocking water flow, it’s going to create flooding issues.
As for the wetlands in Section 17, Joens said the DNR is creating an area for pollinators, meaning there will be no spraying aloud. He feared it would become a breeding ground for mosquitoes - and a health hazard for people and livestock that live in the area.
After listening to the supervisors’ concerns, Commissioner Donald Linssen said, “I think there’s a limited amount we can do as a county board. We can’t dictate to the state of Minnesota. We can have a resolution, but I don’t think a resolution is going to mean much.
“I understand everything you’re saying, but we need to work with them,” he added.
In other matters, commissioners:
- Discussed the option to set a threshold for ditch system repair costs, which would require Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder to get authorization to complete repairs in excess of $5,000. This action was recommended by the county’s legal counsel for ditch issues, Kurt Deter.
Murray County recently set the threshold at $5,000, Schnieder said. The issue will be added to an upcoming board agenda.
- Discussed the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s desire to turn Minnesota 264 from Round Lake to Interstate 90 back to the county. Because this is a county line road, Nobles and Jackson counties would each need to agree to the turnback and split any future funding for road improvements.
Schnieder said while there are no proposed improvements to the roadway, the state has no funding to offer for the turnback at this time.
“I’m a little reluctant to turn back 264,” Schnieder said.
- Invited Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl in to discuss two significant projects being led by the district - a water storage and iron-enhanced filtering project on the former Prairie View Golf Links property and a proposed drawdown of Lake Ocheda.
The Prairie View project will result in an anticipated 30 percent reduction in phosphorous reaching Lake Okabena, while the Lake Ocheda project is aimed at reducing internal phosphorus loading through periodic drawdowns that force a fish kill, reducing the estimated 1.1 million pounds of roughfish in the lake, and encouraging submergent vegetative growth.
Commissioners were interested in learning more about the projects to be able to respond to constituents voicing either support or opposition toward the projects.
“We’re looking to reduce phosphorous, which leads to algae blooms,” Livdahl said, noting that both Lake Okabena and Lake Ocheda are on the state’s impaired waters list.
Engineers designing the Prairie View project are a couple of weeks away from completion. Livdahl said once the project is bid, and if bids are acceptable, the construction would likely be done this year.
“One of the controversial issues with this is what happens to the site after we’re done with it,” he said. “That really isn’t my issue; we’re trying to stay out of the discussion on that. We know there will likely be an easement given to the watershed district.”
As for Lake Ocheda, Livdahl said the level of pollution in the three-basin lake is much higher than what’s in Lake Okabena. Calling it a “failed lake,” Livdahl said water quality is poor. That water ultimately flows downstream to Lake Bella, where it enters the Worthington wells and is pumped back to the city for drinking water.
With Lake Ocheda, Livdahl said a 70 percent reduction in phosphorous coming from agricultural land is needed, as well as a 97 percent reduction of internal loading. The internal loading is happening primarily because of the roughfish population.
- Discussed a draft outlining the costs for project management, as well as planning, design and administration costs for several of the projects included in the county’s capital improvement plan. There was some discussion about the timeline for completing a new roof on Prairie Justice Center yet this year. Two roofers told County Administrator Tom Johnson the project will take six months to complete.