MINNEAPOLIS — A proposal that could have led to huge fines for Minnesota farmers who fail to plant buffer strips between fields and waterways is likely to die on Thursday after it came under bipartisan fire from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and key Republican lawmakers, the executive director of a state board said Tuesday.
John Jaschke of the Board of Water and Soil Resources said in an interview that he expects the board’s buffers committee will reject the draft proposal when it meets Thursday and that it won’t pursue the idea further.
“I expect there will not be anything going forward … and this proposal will go away and not be seen again,” Jaschke said after Dayton disavowed the proposal, which Jaschke said was meant to give local governments a new tool for enforcing the buffer law, the governor’s signature environmental initiative.
Dayton said the proposed fines ran counter to the cooperative approach he envisioned, while Republicans accused his administration of overreach.
The governor said in a letter to the board released Tuesday that he was “surprised and disturbed” to learn about the draft proposal.
“The proposed fines are unreasonable,” Dayton wrote. “They have come as a shock not only to myself, but also to Minnesota farmers.” He urged the board to swiftly reconsider.
The proposal would have given local governments a new option for imposing higher administrative penalties than current regulations allow on landowners who don’t comply with the law’s requirements. The fines could have reached as high as $500 per linear foot of land along ditches and other watercourses, though the amount would have been up to the counties and watershed districts that chose to use the approach.
Compliance is over 98 percent already. Dayton said penalties should be a last resort.
Chairmen of legislative committees with jurisdiction over agriculture called the proposal absurd and heavy-handed, and scheduled hearings on for Wednesday and Thursday.
“These fines are an outrageous overreach by Board of Water and Soil Resources, and we encourage Minnesota farmers to make their voices heard,” the chairmen of two House agriculture committees, Reps. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, and Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said in a statement.
Sen. Bill Weber, of Luverne, who chairs the Senate agriculture committee, posted a video message to his constituents on Facebook in which he tore the proposal in two and tossed it off his desk.
“This is absolutely and totally ludicrous,” he said.
Jaschke said he and his staff made mistakes in their hurry to put the proposal out for public comment.
“I apologize. I’m sorry and we will do everything to make sure we do better going forward,” he said.
The Board of Water and Soil Resources consists of 20 members, including local government representatives and administration officials, who are appointed by the governor.