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Doling out resources

Published (6/1/2010)
By Sue Hegarty
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New recreation laws and the Outdoor Heritage Fund appropriations comprise a large part of the omnibus environment and natural resources law.

Most provisions are effective Aug. 1, 2010, including a requirement that boaters must drain boating-related equipment by removing drain plugs to prevent the spread of invasive species. Other provisions include: veterans with any service-connected disability will receive free daily entry permits to visit state parks, and horse riders on state land will be required to have a horse pass, a provision that was broadened after some riders claimed they didn’t need a horse trail pass because they were riding off or beside the trail.

During winter months, owners of collector snowmobiles can qualify for exempted registration status. Cross-country skiers will face higher trail pass fees, but students and teachers on school-sanctioned cross-country ski outings will be exempt from the fees.

Funds from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, a sales tax dedicated to environmental and natural resources projects, will be used to acquire and/or restore prairie grassland, to protect shoreline and forest habitat, and to protect shallow lakes and wetlands.

The law contains nearly $6.9 million of outdoor heritage appropriations for a wetlands acquisition and restoration program known as Reinvest in Minnesota. The RIM money stayed in the law despite the governor’s previous line-item veto of $25 million for RIM in the capital investment law he signed March 14. Outdoor heritage funds can only be used to supplement, not replace, traditional sources of funding.

A number of studies are required under the new law. A technical evaluation panel must convene by July 1, 2011, to annually study whether conservation efforts funded by outdoor heritage money are achieving the goals set forth.

In light of a legislative auditor’s report that the Department of Natural Resources has more land than it can manage, the new law requires a report to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2011, that will contain recommendations on ways to accomplish the reasonable care of state land acquired in fee title or easement. Also by that date, the DNR must provide an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of compensating the permanent school trust fund for state-owned lands.

Clean Water Fund appropriations will help pay to continue implementing total maximum daily load studies for impaired waters, an ongoing project of the Pollution Control Agency.

Energy-related provisions

The new law also contains a number of energy-related provisions, including a change to the formula used for funding the Renewable Development Fund.

Xcel Energy pays into the fund based on the number of spent nuclear fuel dry casks it stores at its two power plants. Rather than a flat fee, Xcel will begin paying $500,000 each year for each stored dry cask, which will increase the fund’s bottom line. Development funds are appropriated as grants for research and development to find alternatives to nuclear energy. However, a provision in the law will redirect $21 million of those funds for a solar module rebate program.

Line-item vetoes

Three line-item vetoes were handed out by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

A request for $800,000 for supplemental staffing at the Public Utilities Commission was deemed inappropriate. In his veto letter, Pawlenty wrote, “In a time of when the state must live within its means, adding additional staff at the expense of Minnesota ratepayers sends the wrong message.”

For the second straight year, the Board of Water and Soil Resources will not receive a $100,000 appropriation from the Clean Water Fund to establish a pilot grant program to engage volunteers and to match private resources to complete water quality restoration and protection projects for lakes and rivers.

The City of Minneapolis will not receive $90,000 for a grant to an organization that would study energy conservation and energy planning in lieu of a proposed high-voltage transmission line along the Midtown Greenway neighborhood. “Projects of this type normally do not receive funds from the renewable development fund for localized studies and I am concerned about the precedence that this would set,” wrote Pawlenty.

HF3702/ SF3275*/CH361

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