by T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol reporter
Legislation repealing recent Department Natural Resources (DNR) rulemaking authority pertaining to development along the Mississippi River — authority some believe already lost — is heading to the Senate floor.
Republican Brooklyn Park Sen. Benjamin Kruse’s bill passed a Senate finance committee today (Tuesday, Feb. 8) after drawing considerable debate.
“I’ve seen nothing but progressive betterment of the river,” said Kruse of local government treatment of the Mississippi. This is a river they love, Kruse explained.
The DNR was directed to draw up new environmental rules that would impact a 72-mile stretch of river contained in the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area.
From Anoka County to Dakota County
The critical area stretches from Anoka County to southeast Dakota County.
Supporters of the rulemaking authority, such as the St. Paul-based Friends of the Mississippi River, argued the proposed new rules are aimed at providing local government with more flexibility in development options along the river.
“The rules are very nearly completed,” said Whitney Clark, executive director of Friends of the Mississippi River. Clark called them “very common sense” and argued that passing a repeal would mean the effort and money spent in drawing up the rules would be “deliberately wasted.”
Some 39 environmental groups oppose repealing the rule-making authority, he said.
Tom Dimond of St. Paul, another supporter of keeping the DNR rule authority intact, argued the DNR should be allowed to complete mapping river bank slopes. That would provide a valuable tool for local government officials, Dimond said.
Timeline not met
But Republicans on the committee noted the DNR had failed to successfully complete the legislatively requested rules within an 18-month legal window.
Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, argued Kruse’s bill was probably duplicative, because the rulemaking authority had already expired.
But Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, an attorney, suggested the legalities were still open. “I don’t think we have an answer before us that’s clear,” she said.
On a voice vote, the Senate committee sent Kruse’s bill to the Senate floor.
Companion legislation in the House awaits action.
Former state representative Kathy Tingelstad, legislative liaison for Anoka County, said repealing the DNR rule-making authority was one of the county’s legislative objectives.
The proposed rules have caused concerns among local city officials, she explained.Cities like Anoka, Champlin, and others are highly sensitive to issues affecting their river shorelines.
Anoka County concerned about parks
Anoka County is concerned, Tingelstad explained, about the impact the proposed rules could have to county parks along the river — how it might affect the height of park structures, for instance.
But the biggest problem county officials have with the process is that the concerns and comments of local citizens were not adequately heard and incorporated, Tingelstad explained.
She expects the repeal legislation, carried in the House by Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, to pass the Legislature.
Kruse argued in committee his bill did not wipe out the proposed rules, but merely kept them from being implemented.
Anderson indicated she thought the idea of the rules lying in a drawer somewhere, awaiting for future action, wasteful.
But Olson said citizens often feel frustrated and helpless when confronting the rulemaking process.