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Minnesota Opinion - On consistency needed for lake management:

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An excerpt from recent Minnesota editorials:

By The Associated Press

On consistency needed for lake management:

Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes and almost as many different opinions on how to manage them.

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Balancing private property rights with the need for environmental protection has always been a difficult task. In Minnesota, it's become a tangle of conflicting court decisions and state and local regulations that have left everyone discouraged and confused.

The next Legislature and governor need to step in to bring consistency and streamlining to the permit and regulatory process while ensuring shoreland and water quality protection remain the priority.

Many agencies -- from the Department of Natural Resources to local planning and zoning boards -- weigh in on things like how close to a shoreline a person can build a structure. At times, politics plays a role. Top officials at the DNR, fairly or not, have been criticized for giving environmental regulations short attention because of political pressure. In some counties, county commissioners have disbanded water, soil and conservation districts, opening the way for politics to influence zoning and variance decisions.

The courts have not helped clarify issues. Recent decisions have left contradictory guidelines with one case virtually banning cities from giving variances along lakeshores if the landowner can "reasonably" use their land without a variance, while another ruling seems to almost force counties to give variances in most cases.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty hasn't helped bring consistency. He refused to accept a plan to have public hearings to try to update decades-old rules about issues like how big and long of a dock people can put into public waters. He said the rules would overreach and that the state shouldn't enact shoreland regulations that don't allow for more local flexibility.

But the state's lakes and wetlands go beyond local borders, local politics and local interests -- they are owned by all Minnesotans and are deserving of strong state scrutiny.

Some lawmakers are already working on a revamp of development regulations that would bring uniformity, reduce agency overlap and would devise standards for variances that don't run afoul of the courts. It's a review that is long overdue and deserves support.

-- The Free Press, Mankato

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