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Western Minn. legislators urge counties to take on buffer enforcement

GRANITE FALLS -- Two Republican legislators representing a corridor of five agricultural counties are urging county boards of commissioners to take on responsibility for enforcing the state's new buffer law.

Tom Cherveny / Tribune State Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, right, and Rep. Chris Swedzinksi, R-Ghent, host a town hall meeting Tuesday in Granite Falls to discuss the legislative session.
Tom Cherveny / Tribune State Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, right, and Rep. Chris Swedzinksi, R-Ghent, host a town hall meeting Tuesday in Granite Falls to discuss the legislative session.

GRANITE FALLS - Two Republican legislators representing a corridor of five agricultural counties are urging county boards of commissioners to take on responsibility for enforcing the state's new buffer law.

"I can't encourage counties enough to take on enforcement," District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, told participants at a town hall meeting Tuesday in Granite Falls.

Counties must decide by month's end if they will take on the responsibility or leave it to the state. Dahms warned that turning over responsibility to the state Board of Water and Soil Resources will not be good for constituents in the rural counties.

Counties will be more open to accepting appeals by landowners seeking to implement alternative practices, he said. It's not in the Board of Water and Soil Resources' interest to support appeals, according to Dahms. The agency is looking to place more land in buffers, he said.

Dahm's Senate district includes the counties of Lac qui Parle, Yellow Medicine, Lyon, Redwood and Brown.

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District 16B Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, joined in urging counties to take on enforcement. Swedzinski said the new law affects him as a farmer. He has a seasonal waterway that is designated as public waters and requires a 50-foot buffer. He questions the designation.

He said that as a farmer, he would rather bring his challenge to his local county commissioner than a state agency.

Dahms said he has already received calls from some landowners who are upset because they cannot take their appeals to their local county board.

Yellow Medicine County Commissioner Gary Johnson raised the question of whether counties should take on the enforcement responsibility. He said that as a county commissioner, he would be reluctant to support taking it on unless the state fully funds the new costs.

"People, farmers are telling me 'I do not want more taxes. I don't want my taxes going up,'" Johnson said.

The commissioner said he is also aware that there are some landowners who are strongly opposed to the new law, and likely to challenge it. He said one individual told him he would be "waiting at the end of the field with a high-powered rifle'' if the county or state forces compliance with the buffer requirements.

Dahms pointed out that the buffer law essentially enforces a 1978 law already requiring buffers. The requirement to add buffers is triggered on ditches built before 1978 whenever there is a redetermination of benefits in a ditch system.

When a redetermination of benefits is conducted, trained viewers evaluate how much each parcel of land benefits from having access to the ditch and the landowners are assessed a proportionate amount for that benefit.

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Many counties have started the redetermination process on systems in the last several years, but in previous years did so rarely. Dahms, a former Redwood County Commissioner, said counties probably would not be in the current position with the buffer law had they taken on redeterminations beginning in 1978.

He pointed out that the Legislature appropriated $8 million to counties in the coming year for their costs associated with enforcing the buffer legislation. Another $10 million is available the subsequent year. The funds are distributed to counties based on the number of miles of ditches they have.

Tom Cherveny / Tribune State Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, speaks Tuesday in Granite Falls. During a town hall meeting on the legislative session, Dahms urged counties to take on the responsibility for buffer law enforcement.
Tom Cherveny / Tribune State Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, speaks Tuesday in Granite Falls. During a town hall meeting on the legislative session, Dahms urged counties to take on the responsibility for buffer law enforcement.

Related Topics: GRANITE FALLS
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