Waterway buffer enforcement, industrial hemp, and urban farming pass House and Senate

Rep Denny McNamara, R-Hastings MN House

On an 83-50 vote, the environment and natural resources funding bill, HF 846, passed through the Minnesota House this afternoon and by a slimmer 35-30 vote through the Senate.  One of Governor Dayton’s top priorities, 50 foot buffers with stricter enforcement, was in the bill.

The timeline for property owners to install buffers would be 2017 for all public waters and 2018 for drainage ditches. Language allows for 16.5-30 foot wide buffers along ditches.  The bill will add $500 fines and corrective action for those who violate the buffer law.

While enforcement was not turned over to the state Department of Natural Resources– as Governor Dayton had originally wished–the law does allow the state to withhold funding from any local water management authority or soil and water conservation district that fails to implement the law.

Lake shore owners are allowed to have “stairways, landings, picnic areas, access paths, beach and waterfront access” but are otherwise subject to the law.

$22 million is allocated to implement the program.  Over $19 million more was allocated in the omnibus legacy bill for the program.  Much of the money will be compensation available to property owners who install buffers.  The federal government also provides compensation for landowners.

As Alpha News previously reported, the 125,000 acres that would be affected under this law, would be in addition to the 838,522 acres already under conservation easement in Minnesota, putting Minnesota further up the list of states with conservation easements under perpetual protection from development.

Another big change that comes with the the larger environment and natural resources bill is the legalization of industrial hemp as an agricultural crop.

The bill also also allows for “urban farmers” to qualify for certain grants not previously available to them and also calls for the commissioner of agriculture to “effectively and efficiently promote urban agriculture in Minnesota cities.”

The votes were party-line, with Republicans in the House and Senate supporting the bills, there has been talk of a veto by Governor Dayton as the buffer plan is not as strict as he had originally sought.  In addition, the bill would eliminate the citizen’s board for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which environmental advocacy groups have been adamant about maintaining.   Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, and Chair of the House Environmental and natural resources committee has called such boards “outdated.”