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County passes buffer law ordinance

Lake County Board of Commissioners has unanimously approved a new ordinance to enforce Minnesota's Riparian Protection Law, also called the buffer law, that went into effect Nov. 1.

The buffer law establishes perennial vegetation buffers of up to 50 feet along rivers, streams and public ditches that will help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website. Passed in 2015, the law didn't go into effect until Nov. 1. It is focused more on the heavily agricultural areas of southern and western Minnesota.

Lake County, however, has no public ditches that would be covered by the buffer law. The county's own shoreland ordinances require buffers of at least 50 feet for the county's streams and rivers.

If the county didn't enact an enforcement ordinance, the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) would have been responsible for enforcement of the law. If the enforcement were left to BWSR, the county could not access any of the Riparian Protection Aid set aside earlier in the year when Gov. Mark Dayton signed the tax bill and environment omnibus bill.

The bill set aside $8 million in fiscal year 2017 and $10 million each year after to enforce and implement the requirements. The aid to a county electing to enforce the buffer law won't be less than $40,000 in 2017 and $50,000 thereafter, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

The "standalone" ordinance doesn't conflict or relate to the Lake County's other shoreland ordinances. If the county later finds the enforcement requirements cause too much strain on the environmental services department, the county can simply overturn its ordinance and return enforcement responsibilities to BWSR.

Lake County environmental services director Christine McCarthy told the board that no one came to the public hearing scheduled immediately before the county board's meeting.

"It's a standalone ordinance," Commissioner Rich Sve said. "So should this enforcement issue change as to who is going to manage it or if funding for it changes, we could opt out and abolish this particular piece and it would affect the rest of our planning and zoning."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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