Lake County officials haven't received formal word from the federal government that the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will be reappraised, but they told the Lake County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 7 that they are planning for the process.
On Dec. 20, U.S. Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber announced that the U.S. Forest Service will reappraise the BWCAW. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is reported to have rejected the 2018 appraisal of the federal lands within the Boundary Waters.
Lake County Administrator Matt Huddleston said the county hasn't received official notification from the U.S. Forest Service and USDA yet.
"But the information that has been communicated to us is that the Secretary of Agriculture did make a decision to get a new appraisal," he said. "Our understanding is that the process is going to take a year or two to complete, so we’re trying to stay apprised of the current situation and determine the appropriate time to be able to provide some input or feedback on that process."
The county received the 2018 appraisal in June 2019, which called for a 63% reduction in value for the Boundary Waters as a whole. The new appraisal valued an acre of BWCAW land at roughly $500.
The appraisal would have reduced the county's payments in-lieu-of-taxes (PILT) drastically. Previously, Lake County received approximately $2.6 million annually. With the reduction, Lake County was set to receive $1.3 million per year. County commissioners approved a 6% levy increase in December 2019 to offset the expected loss.
However, with Perdue's decision, the county will continue to receive payments set at the 2008 appraisal level of $2.6 million in PILT funds throughout the reappraisal process.
"The only catch to that is that as we go through the new appraisal process, whatever comes out of that new appraisal will be retroactive," Huddleston said. "So if the new appraisal is anything else than the 2008 appraisal, we’ll have to settle up on anything we receive during that time. So there are still unknowns that we'll have to settle.
Commissioner Rich Sve commended the work done on the reappraisal request process by both county staff and federal representatives.
"It's something we've been working on and we've all been pulling the oars in the same direction on this," he said. "It's been really impressive to see the love all the departments put into this project to try and get something changed."
Stauber wants to see representatives from the counties that encompass the Boundary Waters — Lake, St. Louis and Cook counties — at the capitol for a meeting with Perdue, Sve said.
"He wants representatives from all three counties to meet with him and the Secretary of Ag to discuss this and, in his words, 'to be crystal clear on what is going to transpire' and that they will hear our concerns," Sve said.
A date for the meeting in Washington D.C. hasn't been set yet, but is expected to take place by early March.