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Hearing Scheduled for June 21, 2010
June 19, 2010
Hastings will hold a public hearing on the adoption of ordinances to implement the Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization's Standards and Rules at its June 21, 2010 meeting, which begins at 7:00 p.m.
The proposed buffer/easement ordinance can be found here.
A Short Chronology of the Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization's Plan and Implementing Standards, Rules, and Local Ordinances
June 18, 2010
Plan, Rules and Standards.
The Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization (VRWJPO) was formed jointly by Dakota and Scott Counties as a Watershed Management Organization under Section 103B.211 of Minnesota Statutes. In November, 2005, the VRWJPO adopted a Water Management Plan for the Watershed. In 2007 and 2008 the VRWJPO adopted more specific Rules and Standards to address implementation of its Plan. It then directed the individual local government units in the watershed to adopt ordinances to implement the Plan, Rules and Standards. (for the complete documents, click on the links on the right under "VRWJPO Documents")
Although the VRWJPO's Plan, Rules and Standards were created in response to state laws under Chapter 103B requiring watershed managment organizations to develop such plans, the VRWJPO documents went far beyond what state law required.
Ordinance Adoption by Rural Communities in the Watershed.
This website was born in 2009, when the rural communities in the watershed were being told that they must adopt an ordinance to implement and enforce the VRWJPO's rules. The rural communities were told that if they did not adopt the "Water Resources Management Ordinance" prepared by planner Dean Johnson, that they would lose their permitting authority.
Three separate public hearings were held in the Spring of 2009 to allow for public comment on the proposed rural Ordinance. The hearings were well attended, with standing room only, and one of them was featured on a local TV news show. Public comments were universally negative, primarily focused on the requirement that landowners give the government permanent conservation easements whenever the buffer requirements were triggered.
Buffer/Conservation Easement Requirement.
VRWJPO Standards require that, if a piece of real estate is divided into one or more parcels, and it contains wetlands, major waterways, or public waters wetlands, then the owner must give the government a permanent conservation easement of up to 150 feet on all sides of the wetland or waterway. "Major waterways" include "Intermittent streams" as shown on Map 1. In other words, a "major waterway" does not even have to have water in it.
VRWJPO Rules make it clear that this is just the first step down the road to requiring buffers/conservation easements even if property is not being divided.
Most land uses are prohibited within the buffer/easement area. Routine mowing becomes a crime. If the land within the easement area has been cultivated or broken at any time within the five preceding years, the vegetation is considered unacceptable, and the landowner is required to plant, and re-plant as necessary, a government approved seed mixture.
Even though landowners are required to give the government entity permanent conservation easements, there is no provision for compensating the landowner for the easement or the loss of the use of the land -- or for the labor required to maintain "acceptable" vegetation.
What Happens if a Local Government Unit Doesn't Adopt an Ordinance Implementing the VRWJPO Standards?
In 2009, when the rural communities were considering adoption of an ordinance implementing the VRWJPO Standards, they were told that if they didn't adopt the proposed ordinance, they would lose their permitting authority and the VRWJPO would simply enforce the Standards and Rules itself. VRWJPO representatives told these townships and cities that they had no power to change the ordinance to make it more acceptable to their citizens, and if they didn't adopt the ordinance, they wouldn't even have the power to issue a permit for a deck anymore because the VRWJPO would take over.
In April, 2009, Eureka Township refused to adopt the ordinance. The VRWJPO hasn't taken over any permitting from the township as of the time of this writing. There is some question as to whether the VRWJPO has the legal authority under state law to take over the permitting for decks.
Is This Really About Water Quality?
Although VRWJPO representatives refer to certain water quality "impairments" that have been found to exist along the various stretches of the Vermillion River, they don't talk much about the other goals of their Plan: wildlife habitat and water recreational opportunities. Al Singer, Dakota County's land conservation manager, has stated publicly that to protect water quality, you don't need a buffer width any greater than 50 feet. Greater widths are needed to provide wildlife habitat, however. Other sources agree: here and here.
Mr. Singer is also involved with the Vermillion River Corridor Plan, which is quite open about its goals of acquiring land along the river to increase wildlife habitat and provide recreational opportunities for the public. Mr. Singer emphasizes that this project will only acquire land from willing landowners, who will be compensated.
How do these two plans fit together?
One possible explanation, which has not been expressed or affirmed by any VRWJPO representative: the forced conservation easements will depress the value of the land involved so as to justify less compensation being paid if and when the land is acquired in the future for the Corridor Plan.
The conservation easement language in the Standards seems to support this explanation. One approved use of the buffer/easement area is "Construction of a multipurpose trail, including boardwalks and pedestrian bridges."
A Chinese Farmer Reacts to Threat of Government Taking his Land.
June 12, 2010
Even landowners in communist countries don't react well to their land being confiscated.
A Chinese farmer named Yang Yude constructed a homemade multiple-tube rocket launcher, and fired it over the heads of those coming to confiscate his land. For more, see the Reuter's story at http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6570QY20100608
Why is this story important?
Just like the Iranians who took to the streets to protest Ahmedinejad, knowing they were risking their lives, this farmer lives in a country that subjects protesters to brutal treatment.
But, like the Iranian protesters, this farmer prizes freedom more highly than his life.
These folks weren't raised, as many of my generation were, on the story of Patrick Henry ("Give me liberty or give me death") and his revolutionary brothers who risked everything so that we might have the privilege of living in this great country.
So where does this willingness to sacrifice for freedom come from? Is it born of a yearning that lives in us all, whether dormant or triggered by outside events? Is it part of what makes us human?
If it is part of what makes us human, then why do folks here, living in the land of the free, where freedom of speech is a birthright, shrink from exercising that freedom for fear of consequences far less harmful than death?
Is it because most of us have as yet only experienced small nibbles at the edges of our freedoms, with the greater threats and confiscations aimed at somebody else, some other group of people? Are we relieved at being told that the latest round of confiscatory laws won't touch us -- not yet, anyway?
Yesterday's Public Hearing on the Vermillion River
May 28, 2010
Yesterday's public hearing took place as scheduled at 1:00 p.m., except in a different room. The JPO approved the amendments, but Commissioners Krause and Wolf expressed concerns about the required conservation easements, and indicated they want further information and discussion about them in the future.
A number of landowners in the watershed spoke at the hearing. One landowner said the JPO's rules were having a monumental impact on some people's lives. With land in Vermillion Township that he wants to split off so his daughter and son-in-law can build a house, he had already paid for the permits, but then learned that he would have to abandon 7-8 acres of land if he wanted to get the lot split approved.
In response, Dakota County Commissioner Joe Harris said that they had tried every possible solution to try to benefit this landowner, but "we do have rules and regulations" and the JPO couldn't make an exception for one landowner.
Commissioner Harris said the amendments are intended to relax the existing standards.
The buffer/easement standards themselves, however, except for a provision permitting existing grassed waterways in ag land to remain the same, remain unchanged. Instead of reducing the impact of the easement requirements, the amendment adds a provision that sounds like it might postpone the easement requirements for communities with agricultural one per quarter quarter zoning. Postponing a law is not the same as relaxing it.
But as previously pointed out, this provision is vague, and a prior statement by watershed administrator Mark Zabel suggested that he may have his own definition of "one per quarter quarter zoning." This is because of clustering, which is allowed by some of the rural communities in the watershed.
Clustering is a mechanism that allows a landowner who owns more than one quarter quarter to use an unused building right to build an additional residence on a quarter quarter that already has a home on it. Without the ability to cluster, landowners in communities with one per quarter quarter zoning would have to use the building right on a quarter quarter that doesn't have any building on it already. Clustering is used in order to preserve high quality farmland, and allow people to build on land that is not as good for farming.
Although it results in more than one home on a particular quarter quarter, it does not increase the average number of homes on a quarter quarter.
A Eureka Township landowner questioned whether she would be able to cluster an unused building right on a quarter quarter where she already had a house.
Administrator Zabel repeated his prior statement that clustering near the river wouldn't be allowed, even though the land is in an agricultural community with one per quarter quarter zoning.
He didn't explain how he came to this conclusion, when the amendment specifically exempts agricultural communities with one per quarter quarter zoning. Does he mean that his definition of one per quarter quarter zoning means no clustering? Does this mean that a community that allows clustering does not fall within the new exemption?
Or does it just mean that you can't cluster near the river -- even though that's not what the amendment says. Kathy Keena, assistant county attorney in attendance, did not offer to shed any light on this confusing issue.
More than one landowner criticized the JPO for scheduling the public hearing at 1:00 on a weekday afternoon, when most people are at work. Commissioner Joe Harris responded that future public hearings would be held in the evening.
After the close of public comments, Commissioners Krause and Wolf said they wanted to know more about the existing requirements and how they affect landowners. They both wanted to table the issue until next month's meeting. After being told that the only issue before the JPO at the meeting was whether they wanted to relax the standards, and that changing the width of buffers or similar changes would require going through a separate process, all three commissioners voted in favor of the amendments.
Commissioner Krause added that he wanted to revisit the subject in the future.
When is the Public Hearing on the Vermillion River Watershed Amendments?
May 19, 2010
It's at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 27, 2010 at the Dakota County Western Service Center at Conference Room 334, 14955 Galaxie Ave., Apple Valley, Minnesota.
Just in case you'd like to comment on the amendments but can't make it to the hearing, you can submit written comments, which will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. the day before the hearing, May 26, 2010. Written comments can be sent to:
Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization
c/o Water Resources Office
14955 Galaxie Ave.
Apple Valley, MN 55124
or emailed to Mark.Zabel@co.dakota.mn.us
Public Hearing on Vermillion River Watershed Amendments to Water Management Standards
May 18, 2010
During last years' public hearings on the rural water management ordinance, Dakota County Commissioner Joe Harris promised that the Water Management Plan would be amended in response to objections voiced at those hearings. At those hearings, landowners strongly objected to the provisions that forced conservation easements that would be required if a property was split.
The JPO has amended its Standards. But the amendments ignore the objections voiced at last years' public hearings. Instead of changing the buffer requirements, the amendments apparently postpone their effect in agricultural communities with low density zoning. For areas with agricultural zoning that limit building eligibility to one per quarter quarter, the amendment postpones the coerced conservation easements until "the land use zoning is changed to an alternate use zoning or a higher density of residential building eligibilities."
Whether the amendments actually postpone the mandatory conservation easements depends on how this language is interpreted. Recent statements by Mark Zabel, the JPO Administrator, suggest that he may have his own interpretation of what constitutes one per quarter quarter zoning, and it may differ from the understanding of others who live in these rural townships.
And even if they do postpone the mandatory easements, there's the same effect on the value of an owner's property, encumbered by the cloud of easements that the government will demand in the future.
Update on Vermillion River Watershed Water Management Plan
May 18, 2010
Last year, rural landowners in the Vermillion River watershed flocked to public hearings to object to the proposed ordinance that wold force them to give the government permanent conservation easements without compensation if they wanted to do a lot split.
What's happened since then?
Eleven out of twelve rural communities adopted the ordinance because they were threatened with loss of their permitting powers, and told that the ordinance would become law no matter what they did.
Eureka Township declined to adopt the ordinance. After a series of meetings between township and JPO representatives over the past year, Eureka continued to decline to adopt any part of the ordinance. At a recent Eureka town board meeting, the township attorney said that he didn't believe that the JPO had the legal authority to take over all permitting from the township, and that he would have a hard time saying that the township could legally take the permanent conservation easements from landowners.
Which reminds me. Last year, I spoke with Commissioner Joe Harris on the phone and told him I thought the forced conservation easements were unconstitutional. He said that a county attorney had looked into this, and that he would see that I received an explanation of why the county attorney thought these easments were constitutional. That was over a year ago, and I haven't received anything yet.
One of the issues that came up last year at the hearings was the question of why some of the mandatory conservation easements were required to be 150 feet wide, when some experts have said that you don't need more than a 50 foot easement to protect water quality. This past November, Al Singer, Dakota County's land conservation manager, spoke at a meeting of the North Cannon River Watershed WMO and was asked this exact question. He explained that although it was true that you don't need more than 50 feet for water quality, if you wanted to get grants from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, you also had to protect wildlife habitat, which required wider easements. Of course, there's nothing in the Water Management Plan that says that easement acquisition depends on getting funding to pay for them. But this does shed some light on the purpose of the forced easements -- they're not only for water quality.
Giving a New Meaning to "Wildlife Area"
June 25, 2009
We hear about the need for more open space and wildlife habitat all the time. Just the other night we attended the Vermillion River Corridor meeting for our area. The proposal for funding this project represented one of its goals as: "Identifies and integrates wildlife habitat protection/restoration and outdoor recreation (public access and trail) projects and priorities with water quality improvement activities"
Now wcco.com reports on "ongoing problems" in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refugein Burnsville, where police are cracking down on males who frequent the wildlife area in order to have sex in public with strangers. I'm guessing that's not exactly the kind of wildlife that the federal government intended to sponsor in this 14,000-acre refuge.
Although I suppose one could broadly interpret portions of the refuge's 2004 Comprehensive Conservation Plan promoting "native species and natural processes" to somehow support this natural use of the wildlife refuge. Fortunately, however, local police do not adopt this point of view and instead call it "unacceptable behavior."We're told that the Burnsville police will continue their enforcement in the area at least until next week. After that, who knows?
Cross-posted at www.steamvalveblog.com
Vermillion River Corridor - Workshops
June 16, 2009
You may have seen the promotional material about the Vermillion River Corridor. There is a series of workshops to discuss what should be done with land along the Vermillion River.
The next one (for the Lakeville/Farmington focus area) is on Thursday, June 18, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Dakota County Extension and Conservation Center, 4100 220th Street West, Farmington.
Other workshops are:
(New Market and Eureka) Focus Area: June 22, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Farmington Library, 508 Third St., Farmington
Castle Rock-Marshan-Vermillion Focus Area: July 1, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Dakota County Extension and Conservation Center, 4100 220th Street West, Farmington
This project is being run by Al Singer, a Dakota County employee. I met with him yesterday to talk about this. He told me that this is a Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization (VRWJPO) project.
Here are the Draft Principles he gave me.
Why don't the Draft Principles balance the interests of property owners against the interests of others? (they don't mention property rights, just "collaboration" with landowners)
He also gave me pictures illustrating what the Vermillion River Corridor could look like. He said that the workshop attendees will be asked to choose what pictures they like best.
None of the pictures show residents living on their land. None of them show farmers farming their land. All of the pictures that have human beings in them show people who have come to the Vermillion River Corridor from someplace else to fish, bike, hunt, and kayak.
Here are the pictures:
Bed and Breakfast
Open Space Preserve
Paved Trail with Bridge
Selling Real Estate (you're not supposed to like this one)
Residential Native Buffer
Residential Rain Garden
Interesting point raised at Eureka Township Board Meeting
April 13, 2009
See www.envisionfreedomeureka.com for the story.
Eureka Township Planning Commission Declines to Make Recommendation on Water Management Plan
April 6, 2009
At tonight's meeting of the Eureka Township Planning Commission, one motion was made regarding the Water Management Plan. The motion was to recommend that the board not adopt the Rural Water Management Plan. It died for lack of a second. Some Planning Commission members expressed their misgivings about the ordinance. Not a single member moved that the Planning Commission recommend that the Town Board adopt this ordinance. The Town Board meets next Monday to consider the question.
The Other Vermillion River Meeting Held Last Night
March 31, 2009
Last night, Eureka Township held its own public hearing on the proposed Ordinance for the Watershed. We just learned that there was another Vermillion River meeting also held last night, and invitations had been mailed to some - but not all - people owning land on or near the Vermillion River. Check out the invitation.
The Final Ordinance Draft, Made Available March 30, 2009
You can find it here.
Yes, You Do Have to Give a Buyer Certain Information When You Sell Your Property.
At the hearing on March 19, Dean Johnson, who wrote the much criticized Ordinance at issue, told the assembled public that, since the buffers don't kick in until you subdivide the property, you can sell to a buyer and not mention that subdividing could trigger buffers and mandatory conservation easements. He neglected to mention that doing so may be illegal and could subject you to a very expensive lawsuit. . . . more
KSTP Covers the Public Hearing at Castle Rock Township Tonight
Check it out here.
A Very Good Question.
When somebody asks a good question and doesn't get any answer, you have to wonder. . . . more
Read and gather signatures for the Petition to stop the government from requiring unwilling landowners to give conservation easements. . . more
Public Hearings have been scheduled for Rural Communities
in Vermillion River Watershed for March 16 and March 19 . . . more
The Great Dakota/Scott County Land Grab
The Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization has adopted a mind-boggling array of new restrictions on land use. They apply within 21 suburban and rural cities and townships in the Vermillion River Watershed. Unless local officials adopt the JPO's water management ordinance they will lose their permitting authority . . . more
Buffers/Mandatory Conservation Easements
Rural communities in the Vermillion River Watershed will have the option of adopting an ordinance requiring mandatory conservation easements and buffers around the perimeter of all wetlands, major waterways, and public waters wetlands, or giving up their permitting authority to the Joint Powers Organization. Wetlands will be mapped. "Major waterways" include "Intermittent and perennial streams" as shown on Map 1. Look at the map to see if any of the many tentacles of stream corridors crosses your land, and make sure you try to find the light blue tributaries. They are called "major waterways," too. . . . more
Rural Collaborative Local Water Management Plan Fails to Comply with BWSR Requirements.
The Rural Collaborative Plan, written for the twelve rural townships and cities within the Vermillion River Watershed, fails to comply with several regulations adopted by Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.
The Rural Plan Doesn't Focus on Local Issues. BWSR rules require that local plans only contain problem assessment for the individual community adopting the plan. Subpart 6 of Reg. Sec. 8410.0170 states: . . . more
Vermillion River Watershed Map
VRWJPO Watershed Plan
"Major Waterways" map
21 Communities affected
May 27, 2010 Amended Standards
Proposed Hastings Ordinance
June 21, 2010 Proposed Ordinance
Rural Communities Documents
Rural Collaborative Local Watershed Plan
Water Resources Management Ordinance
12 11 Rural Communities Affected