Buffer ordinance moves ahead

FAIRMONT — The Martin County Planning Commission held a public hearing Tuesday prior to adopting a buffer ordinance.

The ordinance is meant to help improve lakes, rivers and streams by utilizing perennial vegetation buffers to help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment. It requires landowners to establish and maintain buffers along public water tributaries and drainage ditches. The state requirement was signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2015, allowing a county or watershed district to carry out compliance provisions regarding buffers.

“We have been working on this for quite a few months,” said county planning and zoning official Pam Flitter.

The commission approved a motion to adopt the ordinance. It now goes before county commissioners for their OK.

According to the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, 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. This includes Martin County, where Jesse Walters of the Martin Soil and Water Conservation District said 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.”

Walters is part of Martin County’s buffer task force, which also consists of Flitter, Planning and Zoning technician Wendy Chirpich, drainage administrator Michael Forstner and Commissioner Elliot Belgard.

Commission member Dean Tlam addressed Walters, asking if there would be real estate tax relief on the buffers. Walters directed the question to Flitter.

“It’s actually a state requirement if they’re going to give that type of thing,” she said. “The county doesn’t get to determine that.”

As for other potential funding, Walters previously mentioned a variety of sources available.

“There’s the Conservation Reserve Program, which is a 10- or 15-year contract that a landowner can enter into,” he noted. “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

The Planning and Zoning department can be reached by phone at (507) 238-5772. It is located in room 104 of the Martin County Courthouse, 201 Lake Ave.