Buffer law deadline draws near

FAIRMONT — Martin County landowners with property adjacent to public waters and ditches are getting ready for change, as Minnesota’s buffer law will reach implementation deadlines soon.

First up is buffers on public waters, which will go into effect Nov. 1. The deadline for public ditches is Nov. 1, 2018.

The law is meant to help improve lakes, rivers and streams by utilizing perennial vegetation buffers to help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources reports that 89 percent of parcels adjacent to Minnesota waters meet preliminary compliance with the law, while Soil and Water Conservation districts are reporting encouraging progress in their work with landowners around the state.

Martin County’s buffer task force committee, consisting of Planning and Zoning official Pam Flitter, Planning and Zoning technician Wendy Chirpich, drainage administrator Michael Forstner, Commissioner Elliot Belgard and Jesse Walters of the Martin Soil and Water Conservation District, were able to share some general information about the law. They also noted that quite a bit of progress has been made, and said they are ready and willing to help landowners meet compliance.

According to Walters, the response from the majority of affected landowners in Martin County has been positive.

“We’re not the enforcement on this, but we have had a lot of contact with landowners, trying to get them technical assistance ahead of the deadline,” he said. “Overall, the reactions have been really positive and they’re just trying to get themselves in compliance by the deadline.”

“The law itself has been in place a couple of years, and so Soil and Water has already been hosting meetings in order to be able to educate people and allow landowners to come in and help them with that process,” Flitter said.

One important aspect of the law is that it provides flexibility for alternative practices that may be better suited for some lands and landowners. Walters encourages people to come meet with him to discuss the issues for their particular parcel of land.

Walters and Flitter, along with Belgard and Forstner, also noted that County Judicial Ditch Systems were not going to consider alternative practices because the ditch system has been in place for a number of years and the 16.5-foot requirement has not changed. Therefore, alternative practices are only going to be considered on public waters.

As far as enforcement of the law, Flitter shared exactly how various responsibilities have been divided up.

“Primarily, Soil and Water will provide technical assistance and the Planning and Zoning Office will be doing the enforcement,” she said. “We are currently working through our ordinance, and part of that ordinance was to make sure that it fit according to our county. So one of the things was that the state was giving us the ability to do administrative penalty orders and the county is currently not looking at doing that because that is very lengthy and time-consuming.

“We’re going to continue to do it with our criminal charges like we already have in our zoning ordinance. As far as that enforcement goes, once a landowner isn’t able to or refuses to implement a buffer, then it will be turned over to our office and we will continue to review, send out notices, and work with the county attorney.”

Another question that crops up in the implementation discussion is funding. Walters noted there are a variety of funding sources available.

“There’s the Conservation Reserve Program, which is a 10- or 15-year contract that a landowner can enter into,” he said. “Then, depending on the size of the buffer required, there’s the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which is a perpetual program.”

“If neither of those are an option that landowners want to pursue, then Soil and Water has state funding available,” Walters said.

More information can be found online at https://mn.gov/portal/natural-resources/buffer-law

Landowners may contact the Martin Soil and Water Conservation District by calling (507) 235-6680. The address is 923 N. State St., Suite 110, in Fairmont.