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Sidebar: Agriculture Rallies to Oppose Buffer Changes
Minnesota Ag Connection - 04/16/2018

Last week the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) released a proposed amendment to the Administrative Penalty Order (APO) plan for Minnesota Buffer Law implementation that would allow counties and watershed districts to assess penalties up to $500 per linear foot out of compliance with the law. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) released a statement calling the proposed amendment beyond excessive and highly unreasonable.

To follow-up its statement, MCGA issued a letter to BWSR Buffers and Soil Loss Operations Supervisor Tom Gile that outlined major concerns with both the amendment and the procedure through which the amendment was proposed.

In the letter to Gile, MCGA President Kirby Hettver said he was deeply troubled by the process through which the proposed amendment was submitted. These concerns included the lack of advance notice and sheer speed of the process to approve the amendment. Both suggest BWSR attempted to rush significant and highly controversial modifications to the Minnesota Buffer Law through under a veil of secrecy and without an open public discussion, Hettver said.

In addition to major procedural concerns, Hettver stated the original statute outlining penalties for noncompliance with the Buffer Law would be a monetary penalty of "up to $500." Among other concerns, Hettver noted the proposed amendment allowing penalties on a per-foot basis would dramatically exceed the statutory penalty threshold. The excessiveness of the proposed penalties are especially troubling considering the current agricultural economy, he said.

Then Governor Mark Dayton issued a letter to BWSR members calling the proposed fines unreasonable and urged BWSR to take swift action to reconsider the proposed APO. Soon after, BWSR Executive Director John Jaschke called the proposed amendment a mistake and announced it would look at other options for enforcement.

Hettver and other members of the agriculture community testified before the Minnesota House of Representatives Agricultural Committee to express their concern with BWSR's procedure to propose the amendment. Jaschke also testified that the amendment was a mistake and personally took responsibility for the process through which it was proposed.

Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) President Kevin Paap said in testimony, "Agriculture has a vital stake in respecting and protecting our state's resources, both for ourselves and for future generations, while remaining a leader in feeding the world," said MFBF President Kevin Paap. "We believe a voluntary, incentive-based, locally designed and implemented process with technical and cost-share support is key to agriculture's continual improvement in the conservation of our natural resources. We believe in a regulatory process that is transparent, consistent, accountable and cost-effective with open, fair and early stakeholder involvement. However, the proposed BWSR amendment did not follow this type of process. Implementing penalties for noncompliance with state buffer law based on linear feet of buffers is costly and unnecessary."

Following testimony, the BWSR Buffers, Soils and Drainage committee met and passed a resolution to officially reject the draft amendment and not give it any further consideration. While the proposed amendment will not be accepted, comments can still be submitted until the comment period's original deadline, which is April 16 at 4:30 p.m. All comments received will be posted on the BWSR website at http://www.bwsr.state.mn.us/.

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