Amid Controversy, State Rips Up Proposal To Raise Buffer Fines

Minnesota state Sen. Bill Weber released a video in which he tore up paper, as if destroying a rule that could have greatly increased penalties for violating a law requiring plants to surround water.

Hours later, on Tuesday, April 10, a state official figuratively ripped up the proposed rule, saying he now knows that it was a mistake.

“We heard very loudly … we were going past where anyone thought we should be,” Executive Director John Jaschke of the state Board of Water and Soil Resources told Forum News Service. “We are the ones to blame for it, me specifically. We didn’t think this through.”

The proposal would have given local governments the option of raising the penalty to as much as $500 a foot for property that did not comply with the law requiring vegetative buffers around water, a method to reduce water pollution. It could have applied to the entire property, not just the area that violated the law.

Current law, which will remain in force, limits the total penalty to $500, although some counties may use a law that could allow a higher penalty.

Jaschke said he expects a soil and water committee to reject the proposal Thursday.

Three of the 73 counties that enforce the buffer law (the state handles the other 14) had wondered about changes, but Jaschke said they did not ask for the $500-per-foot plan.

He said the board has received hundreds of complaints about the proposed rule, released last week, and no one supported it.

Jaschke’s Tuesday announcement that the penalty hike would be junked followed heated words from rural Republican legislators and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Several lawmakers blamed Dayton appointees on the water and soil board for the decision, saying that for the second straight year Dayton was waging “war on agriculture.”

But Dayton was among the critics of the proposal, saying he was “surprised and disturbed” when he learned about the proposal.

The governor, whose proposal of requiring buffers created its own controversy, said the proposed fines were “unreasonable. They have come as a shock to not only myself, but also to Minnesota farmers.”

Rural legislators launched a public relations barrage righting the proposed fine increase.

“People have asked me what I thought,” Weber, R-Luverne, said in his Monday night video.

“Actually, the answer is quite simple,” he said, tearing up a stack of paper.

As for the soil and water board members, he said, “right now they are not trusted.”

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, also had released a statement blasting the board. But he had mixed emotions after informed that the rule would not go through.

While happy the rules are dead, Hamilton also said that there have been too many examples of the executive branch, headed by Dayton, not listening to farmers, or even asking their opinions.

“I am still concerned. How did it get this far?” Hamilton said.

He said proposals should be better vetted.

Jaschke said he made a mistake in not telling Dayton or key legislators about the plan.

“We were in a hurry, and when you are in a hurry mistakes happen,” he said, promising to do better in the future.