Wetland regs relaxed for flood damage
St. Paul — Wetland regulations and rules will be relaxed in northeastern Minnesota as part of a bill the Legislature approved during a special session last week to deal with this summer’s flooding in that part of the state.
The state Board of Water and Soil Resources, which sought the Wetland Conservation Act waiver, says it’s necessary to begin the rebuilding process.
But others aren’t so sure.
“I’ve seen temporary things become permanent,” said Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation. “Now, we need to play defense to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
John Jaschke, BWSR executive director, said the flexibility is necessary because the damage in the northeast is so severe.
BWSR hasn’t sought the waiver in dealing with past flood events – like in the southeastern part of the state in 2007, and the south-central part in 2010 – in part because wetland damage during those events was less.
“Northeastern Minnesota is the most wetland-rich part of the state, and all those streams flow from or through wetlands,” Jaschke said. “It’s a unique set of circumstances that we face up there.
“I don’t see us needing this authority anywhere else again unless we encounter a circumstance where being responsive quickly is imperative.”
In the flooded area, there’s damage to infrastructure. And to the streams and wetlands themselves. In some cases, small streams that flowed through wetlands are now little more than blown-out, rubble-strewn corridors.
Given the extent of the damage, teams of biologists, hydrologists, engineers, and others will have to figure out where the streams and wetlands were, and how to put them back. In some instances, fixes won’t be possible and
Mother Nature will have to take care of it.
Jaschke figures there will be hundreds of individual projects. In each case, a government agency will be responsible for the project as a whole.
“There will be a public project sponsor to make sure all these things are handled properly,” he said. “But in some cases, it will be after the fact.”
According to the current law, for example, wetland mitigation must occur at the same time, or in advance. With the waiver, that mitigation will be able to occur later.
“But the outcome will assure no net loss (of wetlands),” Jaschke said.
The waiver also allows for the removal of debris, which may require heavy equipment be used in streams or wetlands, and gives agencies more latitude in determining where wetlands will be located.
The WCA exemption will be used in Carlton, Lake, and St. Louis counties, and, perhaps, parts of Aitkin and Pine counties.
In addition to the WCA exemption, the bill the Legislature approved last week also includes funds for the flooded area. Among them:
- $10 million for flood hazard mitigation grants.
- $2 million for debris removal from public waters.
- $1.5 million for perpetual RIM conservation easements.
- $11 million for an erosion, sediment, and water-quality control cost-share program.