Farmers Face Huge Fines Under New Buffer Rule Proposal

By Joe Steck – Mankato Times

ST PAUL, MINN. — Local farmers could be facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines under a new buffer rule proposal brought forward by Governor Dayton’s administration.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) introduced a proposed Administrative Penalty Order (APO) last week while the Minnesota House and Senate were on break. The APO would fine farmers out of compliance with Minnesota’s riparian buffer law by up to $500 per linear foot, which could result in tens of thousands of dollars in fines annually for farmers who are even a few feet out of compliance across their entire property.

The proposed penalties were released through administrative rulemaking and without legislative approval.

House Agriculture Finance and Agriculture Policy Chairs Rep. Rod Hamilton, (R-Mountain Lake), and Paul Anderson, (R-Starbuck), issued the following joint statement regarding the proposal:

“The Dayton administration’s war on agriculture is back with a vengeance—these fines are an outrageous overreach by Board of Water and Soil Resources, and we encourage Minnesota farmers to make their voices heard during the two week comment period. Minnesota farmers want to be partners in the effort to clean up our waters, but once again were left out of the decision-making process and given just days to weigh in. House Republicans will hold an emergency hearing of the Agriculture Policy committee on Thursday to discuss this proposal and explore our options to prevent these absurd, heavy-handed penalties from being implemented.”

John Jaschke Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources said that the board did not issue a press release about the proposal and “It was just a matter of schedule why it came out while you were on break.”

“For years we’ve worked with stakeholders to find common ground on this issue, and once again the administration drops the hammer on farmers without allowing them to be part of a solution,” Hamilton said. 

Hamilton notes that BWSR is only giving farmers a two week comment period to make their voices heard. 

“It’s outrageous because they could be one foot out of compliance along that buffer strip and now they could be fined for the entire thing,” Hamilton said. “I hope people are engaged and contact the Governor’s Office and let them know this war on agriculture is unacceptable.”

Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal), who serves on the House Agriculture Finance and Agriculture Policy Committees, issued the following statement on the proposal:

“This extreme proposal is the latest example of this administration’s hostility towards agriculture.  These unreasonable fines would place yet another unnecessary burden on farmers, and are a blatant overreach by the Board of Water and Soil Resources.  As Minnesota’s best stewards of the land, farmers want to participate in keeping our waters clean, but were once again left out of the decision-making process and given only days to voice their opinions.  I will continue to oppose the implementation of these harmful penalties, and will work to protect the interests of the many hard-working farmers in our community that would be impacted by them.”

Senator Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake) condemned the recently proposed onerous penalties against farmers for buffer law compliance.

“Serving as a member of both Senate agriculture committees and the Legislative Water Commission, I support clean water and responsible land stewardship, as all farmers do,” said Senator Draheim. “However, when the Dayton administration proposes rules that not only would devastate family farmers, but appear to be in direct conflict with state statute, the only conclusion is that they are waging a war against Minnesota agriculture.” 

The proposed penalties would fine farmers who are not in compliance on a per foot basis, a direct conflict with Minnesota Statute 103B.101 subd. 12a., which was intended to be implemented on a per parcel basis. Further, farmers would be penalized based on the entire frontage of their parcel, not just on the amount of land that is out of compliance.  

“If a farmer has a 100-foot parcel, and only one foot is out of compliance, they would be penalized for the entire 100 feet, costing extra tens of thousands of dollars,” added Senator Draheim. “That would be like owning three cars, having the tail light out on one, and receiving three tickets, one for each car. The purpose of these fines should be to encourage compliance with the law, not penalize farmers for corrective actions they have already taken.” 

During a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing in February of 2017, the executive director of BWSR, John Jaschke, stated “[The fine] is only up to $500 and cannot exceed that. Again, the point of that fine and any of the enforcement mechanisms is not to collect it, but use it as a way to get the compliance on the ground; to get the buffer or alternative practices in. So, it cannot exceed $500 in any case.” The proposed rules released on April 2, 2018 directly contradict that statement. 

In a letter to his own BWSR agency, Governor Dayton claimed that he “was surprised and disturbed to learn about [the] proposed Administrative Penalty Order for the Buffer Law that is out for public comment. The proposed fines are unreasonable. They have come as a shock to not only myself, but also to Minnesota farmers.”  

“While Governor Dayton claims he believes the proposed fines are unreasonable, it is incomprehensible that his own administrative agencies are crafting policies without his approval,” said Senator Draheim. “By Governor Dayton’s own admission, unelected bureaucrats are making policy decisions that directly impact Minnesotans. This is another example of the tail wagging the dog, and this type of government overreach needs to stop.”

Rep. Peggy Bennett, (R-Albert Lea) also condemned the move by BWSR. 

“It’s frustrating to see such extreme proposed penalties that would be so harmful for Minnesota farmers. I hope farmers in our area reach out to share their opinions on why these proposals are bad for agriculture in our state. Our farmers are already working hard to ensure we have clean water, and this proposal simply goes too far and is an overreach by the BWSR.”

Farmers are encouraged to share their opinions during the comment period, which lasts until 4:30PM on April 16, 2018.  Comments can be submitted by email to buffers.bwsr@state.mn.us, or by U.S. Mail at the following address:

Tom Gile
Buffers and Soil Loss Operations Supervisor
Board of Soil and Water Resources
3555 9th Street NW, Suite 350
Rochester, MN 55901

The House Agriculture Policy Committee will hold a hearing on the proposed penalties on Thursday, April 12 at 10:15AM in Room 5 of the State Office Building in St. Paul (100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155).

 

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