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Brad Mergens

County farmers have more buffer funding assistance

OTTER TAIL COUNTY, Minn. — Brad Mergens, district manager for the West Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District, is informing farmers in Otter Tail County that additional buffer cost sharing assistance is available through his office or through the east Otter Tail office in Perham.

The buffer law requires strips of permanent vegetation to be planted around public waters and public ditches.

Otter Tail County's buffer deadline along public waters is Nov. 1, but waivers can extend this to June 2018.

Those wanting extensions must contact either the West Otter Tail Soil and Water office in Fergus Falls at (218) 739-4694, Extension 4, or the East Otter Tail Soil and Water office at (218) 346-4260.

The buffer directive from Otter Tail County, along public waters, commenced this year. Buffers alongside ditches will be initiated in 2018.

County buffer funding assistance to farmers comes from the state Clean Water Fund and other sources. Landowners can also take part in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) when planning for buffer initiatives.

The deadline for buffers alongside ditches is Nov. 1, 2018.

"We've been working with farmers here in Otter Tail County for two years," said Mergens, "and most are in compliance with buffer guidelines. In fact, we're ahead of most other counties in the state of Minnesota."

Proposed penalties for non-compliance include a $100 per parcel per month penalty for the first six months and a $400 per parcel per month penalty for the next six months.

A public hearing on the proposed penalties will be held Tuesday, Nov. 28, at 2 p.m. in the County Government Services Center near the Regional Treatment Center grounds in northwest Fergus Falls.

"It's important to point out that 98 percent of the land near waterways in Otter Tail County is already in compliance," said Mergens. "In compliance is most of the area around Otter Tail Lake and other large bodies of water where lake residents reside."

However, Mergens said two percent of the land needed for buffering is a lot when one considers the size of Otter Tail County.

"We as county commissioners feel that flexibility, local support and adequate funding for buffering are a recipe for success for the protection of our most valuable resource (water) for future generations," says County Board Chairman Doug Huebsch of Perham.