Skip to main content Skip to office menu Skip to footer
Capital IconMinnesota Legislature

Big bump in buffer penalties could be coming under bill that clears environment committee

Passed in 2015, Minnesota’s buffer law requiring perennial vegetation in lands bordering water was called Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature clean water legislation.

It’s undergone a few tweaks since its first iteration and could see another this year to beef up penalties. Wednesday, the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee approved a bill that would increase the maximum penalty for violating the law from $500 to $10,000.

Following the 9-6 party-line vote, HF3874 next goes to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), the bill would bring maximum penalties into alignment with those assessed for violations of the Wetland Conservation Act. Penalties would be consequential, rather than simply the cost of doing business, he said.

Penalties could be forgiven with sufficient steps to bring a property in compliance.

Minnesota’s buffer law, per the Board of Water and Soil Resources: “requires perennial vegetative buffers of up to 50 feet along lakes, rivers, and streams and buffers of 16.5 feet along ditches.”

Buffers help reduce sediment, fertilizers and other chemicals from entering the water and have been shown to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

Opponents of the bill say a 20-fold increase in penalties for violating the buffer law is excessive, especially since it could be applied to first-time offenders. Moreover, because there is more than a 95% compliance with the law, penalty increases are unnecessary. 

“It is clear that small farmers take seriously their obligations as stewards of the land,” wrote John Reynolds, Minnesota state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “We believe the harshest penalties should be reserved for repeat offenders and a graduated penalty structure is more appropriate.”

Further, the bill would make private the data of individuals applying for grants under the state’s Lawn to Legumes program which encourages growth in pollinator habitat. Hansen said the aim is to prevent Minnesotans from being pestered with offers for goods and services after applying for the program.

Related Articles

Priority Dailies

Ways and Means Committee OKs proposed $512 million supplemental budget on party-line vote
(House Photography file photo) Meeting more needs or fiscal irresponsibility is one way to sum up the differences among the two parties on a supplemental spending package a year after a $72 billion state budg...
Minnesota’s projected budget surplus balloons to $3.7 billion, but fiscal pressure still looms
(House Photography file photo) Just as Minnesota has experienced a warmer winter than usual, so has the state’s budget outlook warmed over the past few months. On Thursday, Minnesota Management and Budget...

Minnesota House on Twitter