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Farm couple urges YM County to take on buffer enforcement

GRANITE FALLS -- A Yellow Medicine County farm couple is appealing a finding that a private ditch on their farm meets the criteria of being a public waterway and will require a 50-foot vegetative buffer.

Romona and Daryl Kuehn are challenging whether a private ditch built in 1948 on their farm in Yellow Medicine County should be classified as a public waterway and subject to the state's 50-foot buffer requirement. They urged the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday to maintain local responsibility for enforcing the new buffer legislation and not surrender it to the state. (Tom Cherveny / Tribune)
Romona and Daryl Kuehn are challenging whether a private ditch built in 1948 on their farm in Yellow Medicine County should be classified as a public waterway and subject to the state's 50-foot buffer requirement. They urged the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday to maintain local responsibility for enforcing the new buffer legislation and not surrender it to the state. (Tom Cherveny / Tribune)

GRANITE FALLS - A Yellow Medicine County farm couple is appealing a finding that a private ditch on their farm meets the criteria of being a public waterway and will require a 50-foot vegetative buffer.

Daryl and Ramona Kuehn of rural Echo urged the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners to maintain the county's authority to enforce the state's new buffer law. They cited their situation as an example of why maintaining local control is important to protecting local landowner rights.

"This is the last stand we can make on these things,'' Daryl Kuehn told the commissioners Tuesday.

Counties in the state must decide by March 31 whether they will accept enforcement responsibilities for the buffer law, or defer it to the state. The law establishes perennial vegetation buffers along rivers, streams, lakes, public ditches and some wetlands.

Public waters require a 50-foot buffer, and public ditches require a 16ยฝ-foot buffer.

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The Kuehns have asked the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to review the finding that lists their private ditch as a public waterway. They said aerial maps show the ditch drains an area of 2.09 square miles. A waterway draining over 2 square miles is considered a public waterway.

They said the ditch was dug in 1948 and they have film showing the process.

Private ditches are exempt in the current law, but the DNR states on a web page about the buffer law that there may be cases when a private ditch is actually a public water.

The Kuehns said they will need to convert six acres of cropland valued at $7,000 per acre into perennial buffer along the three-mile-long ditch to meet the 50-foot requirement.

Daryl Kuehn said he understands the benefits of buffers and would be willing to install a 16ยฝ-foot buffer on the private ditch. He told the commissioners that the private ditch flows into Judicial Ditch 32 and a portion of Ramsey Creek where only 16ยฝ-foot buffers are required.

The private ditch should be treated no differently, Kuehn said. "They're acting like it's a pristine waterway, like it's the headwaters of the Mississippi,'' said Kuehn of his frustration.

Kuehn said a local representative for the DNR told them that their case will be reviewed by staff in the regional office in New Ulm as well as the central office in St. Paul. He told the commissioners that these types of decisions should be made locally, and not by people who he said "do not have an interest or understand the rural lifestyle and what it takes to make things work."

Kuehn said a lobbyist with the Farm Bureau told him the organization has had numerous complaints about the buffer law. Peg Heglund, Yellow Medicine County administrator, said she contacted the Association of Minnesota Counties and learned that organization is likewise hearing a lot of concerns about the new buffer law.

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Commissioner John Berends, who represents Granite Falls, said his district contains "zero" ditches and yet he is receiving more calls on this topic than any other.

"We don't want this buffer law the way it is written,'' said Gary Johnson, chairman of the County Board. He would like the state to slow down its implementation until issues like these can be considered.

"We are just as frustrated as you on this,'' he told the Kuehns.

Nonetheless, the commissioners said they remain undecided on whether to accept or defer the authority for enforcing the buffer law. They pointed out that accepting the responsibility for enforcement does not give the county discretion in how to interpret the law.

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