Swift County passes first reading of buffer ordinance

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Buffers protect waters from chemical runoff and sediment that accumulates due to erosion. Swift County is working on its buffer ordinance that will put it in compliance with state law.

Swift County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the first reading of a county proposed buffer ordinance at its meeting Nov. 21.

A second reading of the proposed law is set for the county board’s Tuesday, Dec. 5, meeting, which will be in the Benson City Council chambers starting at 5:30 p.m.

A new ordinance must be approved at two public meetings and then published in the county’s legal newspaper, which this year is the Appleton Press. Thirty days after publication the proposed law becomes effective unless challenged by petition.

Minnesota’s buffer law is being implemented in two stages. Buffers of at least 30 feet wide, and an average of 50 feet wide were to be installed by the state’s public streams, river, lakes, and wetlands by Nov. 1. Starting Nov. 1, 2018, 16.5-foot buffers must be installed on public ditches.

Last June the county board agreed to be the enforcement authority for the state buffer law allowing property owners to work with someone local rather than a state enforcement officer.

By agreeing to do the enforcement, the county is receiving $141,114 from the state for its expenses in 2017 and another $176,392 for 2018.

Counties have two options for penalizing those who don’t comply with the law. They can issue the person an Administrative Penalty Order (APO) with a fine, or they can charge the person criminally. Criminal charges could result in misdemeanor charges with a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Swift County’s proposed ordinance provides for civil penalties, not criminal penalties.

With the passage of its buffer ordinance, Swift County is complying with state law that requires counties to have a buffer law in place.

98 percent compliance

As of the Nov. 21 meeting, the Swift County Soil and Water Conservation District’s Andy Albertson said that nearly 98 percent of the county’s public water parcels requiring a buffer comply with the law.

“Currently, the county is sitting with 13 parcels and 13 landowners who the SWCD is still working with to either sign a waiver or to come into compliance,” he told commissioners.
Albertson has had conversations with a good majority of those 13 landowners over the phone about steps to take to become compliant or to apply for a waiver, he said. It gives them extra time to get into compliance.

“It is a busy time of year,” Albertson said. “We can all agree that Nov. 1 for farmers to come into compliance probably wasn’t the best time frame for it, so we are taking that into consideration.”

The vast majority of Albertson’s time over the past six months has been spent working on the 2017 buffer compliance, but the focus is now shifting to informing landowners about the 2018 deadline.

Currently, the SWCD is sitting at 274 parcels with approximately 174 landowners that need to comply with the Nov. 1, 2018, deadline on public ditches in the county, Albertson told commissioners.

Those landowners will be mailed information about the law’s requirements and they will be receiving phone calls about how the SWCD can help them comply.

Some people may make adjustments to comply with the buffer law, but not notify the SWCD office, he said.

The SWCD is still going to be reviewing each of the parcels that are required to comply with the state’s buffer law. That review will take place with aerial photography with a new flight gathering data scheduled in 2018. It could also be done by a site inspection with the addition of a new technician to help out with checking on buffer law compliance, he said.

“Everyone will be addressed one way or the other,” Albertson said of the buffer law enforcement process....


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Pictured: Buffers protect waters from chemical runoff and sediment that accumulates due to erosion. Swift County is working on its buffer ordinance that will put it in compliance with state law.

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