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From fish to forests, House panel approves $239.4 million Legacy fund budget

Public testimony is shared with the House Legacy Finance Committee Wednesday before approval of its committee bill. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)
Public testimony is shared with the House Legacy Finance Committee Wednesday before approval of its committee bill. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)

What do invasive carp deterrents, puppets, veterans memorials, and forests have in common? All and more would be funded in fiscal year 2025 under a $239.4 million supplemental budget bill approved by a House panel Wednesday.

“We’re literally buying a whole forest in this bill, an 11,000-acre forest,” said Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul), who chairs the House Legacy Finance Committee and sponsors the amended HF4124.

The Department of Natural Resources would receive $22.65 million to continue transitioning the Minnesota Heritage Forest to public ownership. Nearly half of the 72,000-acre forest spans 11 counties in the Mississippi River headwaters area.

Approved on a voice vote, it now moves to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Funds appropriated by the bill are provided through the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. In November 2008, voters approved the amendment that instituted a sales tax hike of three-eighths of 1% to fund outdoor and cultural projects in the state for 25 years.

The money collected is distributed as follows: 33% to the Clean Water Fund; 33% to the Outdoor Heritage Fund; 19.75% to the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund; and 14.25% to the Parks and Trails Fund.

[MORE: See the spreadsheet]

Several organizations submitted written testimony to the committee in support of various aspects of the bill.

Outdoor Heritage Fund

The bulk of the funding appropriated by the bill — $192.7 million — would go to the Outdoor Heritage Fund for projects designed to restore, protect, and enhance habitat areas, wetlands, forests, and prairies through the state.

House Legacy Finance Committee 4/17/24

The appropriations are based on recommendations from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, with $101.3 million going to habitat, $38.4 million to wetlands, $32.2 million for forests, and $19.4 million for prairies. Among projects the funds would benefit are the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, American Bird Conservancy, Lake Alice in Fergus Falls, and Red River Basin Riparian Habitat Program.

The committee approved an amendment to allocate $12 million to prevent certain types of carp, which are an invasive species and can cause permanent environmental damage, from further invading the upper Mississippi River. The DNR would work with federal partners to design, construct, and begin the operation of a barrier to deter the species at Lock and Dam No. 5, north of Winona. The barrier must be installed by June 30, 2029.

Katie Smith, the DNR’s director of Ecological and Water Resources, cautioned that the timeline is dependent upon project scoping and a comprehensive site investigation. The federal government can take up to one year to approve some permits and permissions.

“The people of Minnesota don’t care,” said Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa). “They want to make sure Minnesota waters are protected.”

Lillie added, “It would disappoint me if the money were sitting in this account a couple years down the road and not being used and implemented.”

Parks and Trails Fund

The Parks and Trails Fund would receive $9.1 million: $5.5 million to the DNR for state parks, trails, and recreation areas, and $3.6 million to the Metropolitan Council for metropolitan regional parks and trails.

Of the money for the latter, $250,000 would be for fishing pier construction and improvements and $182,000 for a competitive grant program to provide free or reduced-cost equipment and facility rentals to youth and low-income users.

Rep. Ethan Cha (DFL-Woodbury) appreciates the recognition that some families cannot afford sports equipment. “I hope that those families who do need this get to utilize it so that they can ski, do archery, or play golf or whatever it is they wish to do.”

Parks and trails funds are traditionally split as follows:

  • 40% to the DNR for state parks, trails, and recreation areas;
  • 40% to the Metropolitan Council for metropolitan regional parks and trails; and
  • 20% for regional parks and trails in greater Minnesota.

Clean Water Fund

The Clean Water Fund would receive $25.4 million:

  • $11.4 million to the Board of Water and Soil Resources, including money for the working lands floodplain program, conservation easements, a water legacy grant program, and Great Lakes restoration projects;
  • $5.3 million to the Pollution Control Agency, including money for statewide surface water quality assessments, subsurface sewage treatment system activities, grants to reduce chloride pollution, and installation of a continuous nitrate-monitoring network;
  • $4.4 million to the Department of Agriculture, including money to monitor and evaluate nitrate trends in groundwater and for the Agriculture Best Management Practices loan program;
  • $3.2 million to the Department of Health for the Drinking Water Contamination of Emerging Concern program and voluntary private well testing as part of the southeast Minnesota nitrate response;
  • $1 million for the University of Minnesota to evaluate stormwater best management practices; and
  • $90,000 to the DNR for assessing mercury and other fish contaminants and tracking the status of impaired water.

Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund

The Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund would receive $12.2 million:

  • $5.7 million to the State Arts Board for various programs and purposes, including funding arts organizations, individual artists, and the Regional Arts Council;
  • $4.4 million to the Minnesota Humanities Center for the Community Identity and Heritage Grant Program, a capacity building grant program, cultural festivals, underrepresented cultural and ethnic studies materials, grants to various community programs and organizations, and the creation of a competitive grant program for students to find music and art education through scholarships;
  • $1.6 million to the Minnesota Historical Society for grants to various organizations related to historical buildings and activities commemorating historical events; and
  • $450,000 to the Department of Administration for renovation of the Berger Fountain and surrounding area, the VFW Post 5252 honor wall in Pelican Rapids, the Clitherall Township Veterans Memorial in Battle Lake, and a supportive arts grant for incarcerated individuals and people on supervised release.

And those puppets? Monkeybear’s Harmolodic Workshop would be granted $100,000 for free puppeteering workshops and an eight-month mentorship program for alumni to create puppet theater pieces and puppet films.


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