A hot-button issue during the 2017 legislative session, ditch-mowing discussions roll on with meetings

Roadside ditches provide habitat for Monarch butterflies, which is one of the reasons a series of meetings the Minnesota Department of Transportation is holding late this month and early next month likely will see heavy attendance.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation, beginning next week, is hosting seven public hearings on the issue of ditch mowing/haying. In addition, citizens may comment via the MnDOT website.

The hearings result from legislation passed earlier this year that placed a moratorium until next May on new mowing rules along state highways.

While mowing and haying of ditches long has been on conservationists’ and hunters’ radars, partially because in some parts of the state ditches provide the best upland bird habitat available, the issue came to the fore following a November 2016 news release in which MnDOT announced it had adopted a new mowing/haying standard and permit. A permit hadn’t been required in the past.

“Having local landowners mow, and bale hay if they choose, in the right-of-way can be mutually beneficial,” Steve Lund, MnDOT’s state maintenance engineer, said in the news release. “But we want to ensure that it is done at the right time of year to make sure we are protecting habitat for wildlife and pollinators. And we want to ensure that those who mow and harvest hay are doing so safely.”

It became one of the early hot-button issues during the 2017 legislative session, with lawmakers ultimately passing a bill that put in place a moratorium and required MnDOT to consult with agriculture and environmental groups as part of putting together a recommendation to the Legislature on the “establishment of a permit or notification system to mow or hay in trunk highway right-of-way.” That recommendation is due no later than March 1, 2018.

Said Nancy Daubenberger, MnDOT assistant commissioner: “This is a challenging issue. The right-of-way serves many purposes, all of them valid. We want to ensure that we address all the needs, including the safety of roadway users, as best we can. We need the public’s help to identify the best route to follow.”

The meetings:

  • Oct. 30 – 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., 
University of Minnesota Crookston, Bede Ballroom, 2900 University Ave., Crookston.
  • Nov. 8 – 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
, Marshall Middle School, 401 South Saratoga Street, Marshall.
  • Nov. 9 – 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
, St. Cloud MnDOT Conference Center, 3725 12th St. N., St. Cloud.
  • 
Nov. 14 – 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
, South Central College, 1920 Lee Boulevard, North Mankato.
  • Nov. 15 – 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., 
U of M Morris Conference Room, 600 E 4th St., Morris.
  • 
Nov. 16 – 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
, Arden Hills Training Center, 1900 County Road West, Shoreview.
  • Nov. 20 – 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
, MnDOT Baxter, 7694 Industrial Park Rd, Baxter.

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