Lyon County takes lead on new ‘Buffer Law’

By Byron Higgin
County Correspondent

The Lyon County Board on Tuesday elected to adopt jurisdiction of the new “Buffer Law,” which provides protection and water quality practices to the county.
“Under state law, the county has the right to take jurisdiction locally or allow it to be under control of the State of Minnesota,” said John Biren, Planning and Zoning director.
“In Lyon County, we have 2,200 parcels covered by the new law,” said Biren.
He said about 25 percent of the county parcels are not in compliance. “These folks are not out of compliance today because the new law doesn’t come into effect until Nov. 1,” said Biren.
Biren said jurisdiction requires a 30-foot minimum, 50-foot average width buffer. “All public drainage ditches within the boundary that require a 16.5 foot width buffer.”
“If we don’t do this, the State of Minnesota will be doing it and their interpretation of the 30-foot minimum may be a little different than ours,” said Biren.
Because county ditches are included in the new law, county ditch inspector Todd Hammer also appeared before the board. “We’re looking for direction from the board,” Hammer said.
While Biren said he and Hammer were not looking for more work, it did appear best to have the law under county control.
Commissioner Charlie Sanow said, “If we take over the control of the ‘Buffer Law’ right now, there will be a lot more common sense used.”
He added, “I’m looking at residents and landowners and I’m not willing to throw them under the bus. So I’m ready to say, we should take responsibility. Twelve months from now, we can evaluate it.”
“I agree with Commissioner Sanow,” said Commissioner Rick Anderson.
“We need to promote a good system and call on our legislators to work through this,” Commissioner Anderson said.
“I’d urge John (Biren) to get the boundaries set and sent to the state,” he added.
“We do need to move on adopting local control,” Commissioner Anderson added.
“A lot of people don’t like this but the law is out there and we need to comply with the law. I am definitely in favor of keeping it on the county level,” said Commissioner Gary Crowley.
County Commissioner Steve Ritter said the board, “Shouldn’t be in a hurry to take the lead on this until the state has come forward with their mandates.” A recent memo indicated county boards should proceed cautiously.
“We can opt out any time. I don’t want to put this off in hopes the state will straighten things out,” Commissioner Sanow added.
“I really think we need to go forward,” added Commissioner Crowley.
In defense of waiting until there is stronger direction from the state, Commissioner Ritter told Biren and Hammer: “The first thing that is going to happen is land owners are going to point the fingers at you and say, ‘I never got paid for this land.’ You’re going to be the bad guys.”
“This board has to make the consensus vote to move ahead. We need to allow our staff to get ready for this,” said Commissioner Anderson. “We need to be the enforcement agency.”
“I am not against clean water, but I am against the government taking land from people,” added Commissioner Ritter.
Commissioner Sanow called it “a poorly written law,” and continued to support local control.
“I think if we vote to take control today, we’re taking the state off the hook,” said Commissioner Ritter.
In the end, Commissioner Crowley made the motion to move forward with the county becoming the enforcer of the “Buffer Law.”
“I expect this whole thing will be settled in court,” said Commission Chairman Paul Graupmann. “I would like to be on the side of the farmers in our county,” he added.
“Someone has to be classified as the enforcement agent and I’d rather see the county doing that,” he added.
The motion passed 4-1 with Commissioner Ritter voting against allow the county to take the lead on this project. As a result of the vote, Director Biren said, “Our job will be to enforce the law.”