If you’ve been tracking our earlier blog posts about BWSR’s insistence on implementing an In-Lieu Fee (ILF) program you are aware that BWSR hosted two “stakeholder” meetings in February meant to provide an opportunity for “stakeholders” to give feedback on the proposed ILF program as well as other rule changes. BWSR was then required to provide a Minnesota Wetland Conservation Act Report to the Legislature on their progress, and the outcomes of these meetings, due March 15th.
As we’ve made clear, these stakeholders meetings have left out those with the most at stake, wetland bank account owners. Regardless, the February 24th meeting included not only me, but for the first time (uninvited) representatives of at least 6 wetland banks. Collectively, we raised a number of concerns that unfortunately, remain unanswered.
The March 15th report not only failed to address these concerns, but did not even recognize them. The banker’s attendance was not mentioned, and there was no mention of future efforts by BWSR to keep wetland bankers involved in the rulemaking process. While the BWSR presentation materials were made available to legislators so their side of the story could be known; no notes, comments, minutes, or any other documentation of stakeholder input from the meetings was included in the report. Instead, the report only restated the same material presented at the stakeholder meetings.
March 15th Report to the Legislature
Within the report, BWSR continues to rely on the outdated and obsolete “Siting of Wetland Mitigation in Northeast Minnesota” document as the basis for needing an ILF program. Our last blog post proved this rationale to be unfounded. Additionally, the report stated that the 2015 statute changes included “additional authorities for BWSR to develop an in-lieu fee wetland mitigation program”. We find this statement misleading as BWSR recently changed the original purpose and limits for the ILF program, seemingly to fit their agenda. As an example, statute language passed in 2012 limited the use of the ILF only to agricultural impacts, impacts in NE Minnesota counties, and for public road impacts. In 2015, this language was removed, and along with it, any restrictions on where the state-run ILF could be used.
While the report included no statement or description to answer why an ILF program is even needed (it appears to simply be assumed that one is needed), it did include statements noting that an ILF program held higher risks to the state, that ILF was not the preferred method of replacement, that ILF might not follow the watershed approach to wetland replacement, that higher replacement ratios might be needed for ILF, that there were “challenges for ILF programs”, and that there are factors “limiting an ILF’s effectiveness”.
The report also states that “Minnesota local governments have approved more wetland bank sites than any other state in the nation.” Why then is BWSR so set on introducing a new program that has no clear need, will potentially require millions of taxpayer dollars, is less preferred than banking, and could severely damage the most successful wetland banking program in the nation? And will our legislators wake up to this?
We encourage anyone opposed to contact his or her legislators questioning the necessity of an ILF program. Following are some important questions that remain unanswered:
-Why is an ILF program necessary when the problem it was meant to solve has already been solved by the private market?
-Why did BWSR change the stated purpose of the ILF program in the last legislative session? Was it because the original problem solved itself?
-What will be the upfront cost to taxpayers to start and implement an ILF program?
-Why should the state (and taxpayers) take on the liability of providing replacement for private impacts when private bankers have successfully provided this service for over 20 years?