Bills target wetland law

Field Editor

St. Paul Three bills that the Fish and Wildlife Legislative
Alliance says are intended to placate the special interests of one
developer could gut state wetland protection under the Wetlands
Conservation Act.

Conservation and sportsmens’ organizations belonging to the
Wetland Conservation Coalition are meeting this week to address
Senate files 312 and 323, and House File 337, which would create an
exemption on the state level for all wetland activities not
regulated under the federal Clean Water Act.

“There’s no way something this egregious will be ignored,” said
Lance Ness, president of the FWLA. “If passed, these bills would
roll back 15 years of wetland protection in the state.”

The bills are intended to permit development in vast wetland
areas on the northern fringe of the Twin Cities, west of Interstate
35 near the junction if 35W and 35E. The wetlands include a
century-old ditch system that has not been maintained for decades.
The developer wants to lower water levels in the ditch, Ness
said.

The legislation is the latest go-around in an environmental
battle that is nearly 10 years old. Attempts to appeal the Board of
Soil and Water Resources rule procedures by the developer
progressed all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which
refused to hear the case. An attempt to craft an alternative that
would allow development and protect core wetland areas by the Rice
Creek Watershed District has not been accepted by the developer,
Ness said.

The legislation places at risk Golden Lake in Circle Pines,
which would gain excess water if the bogs were drained. Golden Lake
is stocked with walleyes by the Minnesota DNR and has public
swimming beaches that could be affected by a drainage-related
decline in water quality.

More importantly, the legislation would subvert the intent of
Wetland Conservation Act, which was crafted to cover loopholes
allowed by federal wetlands law. Recent interpretations of federal
wetlands rules have weakened protection on that level.

Ness says that passage of the state legislation could have
serious, negative consequences for waterfowl and other wildlife in
Minnesota.

“I think the citizens of Minnesota vote people into office so
they can protect our wildlife and water quality,” Ness said.

Authors of the legislation are as follows: HF 337 Larry Howes,
R-Walker; Andrew Westerberg R-Blaine, Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake;
SF 312 Don Betzold, DFL-Brooklyn Center; SF 323 Michael Jungbauer,
R-East Bethel, Debbie J. Johnson, R-Ham Lake, Pat Pariseau,
R-Farmington, Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, Dick Day, R-Owatonna.

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