Conservation Minnesota

Omnibus Environment and Natural Resources Bill Becoming Ominous

As the legislature moves toward their deadlines for getting bills out of committee and to the respective House and Senate floors, some bills are growing in their harm to our environmental laws.  The House omnibus environment and natural resources bill, HF 2164, which contains a wide variety of policy and funding provisions, is moving toward the House floor and limits a number of state agency powers that help protect the environment.

One section, 24 of the House bill, would allow state land bordering public waters to now be sold, without any legislative review.  It would remove statutory language that has been in place for over 50 years stating that all state land bordering or adjacent to public waters, and the timber on this land, must be reserved to protect the watersheds, wildlife habitat, shorelines and scenic features.

This section would cause the late Representative Willard Munger, Minnesota’s “Mr. Environment”, to possibly turn over in his grave.  He consistently championed having public land on public waters, and sought to increase it during his long legislative career.  He used to say that not all Minnesotans would ever have the means to have a cabin on a lake or river, but if they were on a boat and wanted to be able to land on some undeveloped shoreline in public hands, they should have the means to do so as much as possible.

The omnibus bill also amends a portion in section 24 that has been the policy that the legislature should review any possible sale of state land bordering public waters, if the Commissioner of Natural Resources had made a good case that some should be sold.  By removing legislative oversight, and the checks and balances that go along with it, you invite the strong possibility that there will be increased pressure for “sweetheart deals” for sale to private parties.

Another portion of section 24 limits the traditional reserved strip of two rods wide for public travel on all land bordering public waters from the high-water mark to only “state-owned land” for this purpose. This is a huge change in limiting citizen access to public water areas and adjacent land around the state.  If this had become law two years ago, it would have made it illegal for good friend Mike Link, and his wife Kate Crowley, from properly going on their full circle Lake Superior hike, at least on any private Minnesota land along our Great Lake.

The environmental and conservation community, and legislators wanting our natural resources law to remain intact for public access, need to weigh in on this section in HF 2164, and it’s senate companion, as these bills eventually get debated on the legislative floors and the subsequent conference committee process.

About John Helland

John Helland

John Helland is a history graduate of the University of Minnesota. He served as the nonpartisan legislative research analyst for the Minnesota House of Representatives after graduation. He worked extensively on environment and natural resources legislation and issues, and was the primary nonpartisan research staffer for the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committees from 1971 to 2008.

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