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Minnesota Legislature

Legislative News and Views - Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL)

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Thursday, April 09, 2009
ST. PAUL, MN - State lawmakers in the Minnesota House voted this week to approve legislation in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee dedicating new funding from the state’s Legacy Act passed by voters last November. The committee endorsed several spending initiatives devoting $118 million in new funding for clean water efforts and $53 million for Minnesota’s parks and trails. These new resources would not have been available without the overwhelming support of Minnesotans for last year’s constitutional amendment. “Working with environmental experts, Minnesota citizens, and the Pawlenty Administration, we have passed forward-thinking legislation that uses these new resources responsibly," said State Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL - South Saint Paul). “Our main focus is funding the highest-priority projects and programs on the ground where our environment will benefit the most. During this process we have focused on ensuring transparency and made certain every dime of new spending is used as smart and effectively as possible.” Clean water initiatives included in HF1973 would appropriate more than $118 million to protect Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater over the next biennium. The remaining $36 million in clean water spending is awaiting the approval of other legislative committees in the House. Specifically, HF1973 funds the following areas: • $25.4 million for wastewater treatment plants • $2 million for easements for groundwater wellhead protection areas • $5 million to yield basic data to ensure more effective programs • $6.5 million for riparian buffers to reduce pollution from runoff • $5.9 million to improve water retention practices including sediment control basins and rain gardens • $6 million for pollution reduction and restoration • $7.1 million for drinking water protection The committee’s actions increased investments above previously expected levels in several areas. This was to comply with constitutional language requiring that new revenues from the Legacy Fund supplement current spending rather than substitute it. Those increased investments were made in the following areas: • $10 million for Clean Water Partnership grants to protect surface and groundwater • $1 million for wastewater treatment monitoring • $1.2 million to begin removing coal tar from storm water ponds • $2 million for groundwater wellhead protection • $6.5 million for buffers • $5.9 million for water retention • $6 million for watershed grants • $348 thousand to investigate effectiveness of previous cleanup investments • $5 million to develop new methods of reusing water resources “We are budgeting for results with the new money that is available for clean water,” said State Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL - Minneapolis) who chairs the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division. “When you add the funding that will be in the environment finance bill, we are spending more to protect our lakes, streams, rivers, groundwater and drinking water than either the governor or interest groups are recommending. We think the voters who overwhelmingly supported the amendment will approve.” Parks and trails initiatives included in HF1493 would appropriate over $53 million to the state parks and trails system and other parks of regional significance. The bill also establishes a new Naturalist Conservation Corps, mandates a number of new solar energy projects in parks, adds new information resources, and increases the number of full time naturalists in state parks. Specifically, the bill funds the following areas: • $2.8 million to accelerate restoration and protection activities, including: o $1.7 million to restore at least 700 acres of state park land o $400 thousand for invasive species detection, prevention, and response o $300 thousand for prescribed burns on an additional 6,000 acres o $420 thousand to restore and manage prairies and woodlands along 6% of state trails • $14 million to accelerate facility maintenance and rehabilitation, including: o $4.5 million for upgrading facilities in overnight and day use areas o $1 million to improve access to parks and trails for visitors of all abilities o $6 million to enhance 100 miles of trail surfaces, repair and replacement of bridges o $1 million to rehabilitate trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding • $6 million to accelerate facility energy conservation and solar energy use • The MN Conservation Corps will participate in restoration and maintenance of DNR parks and trails • $1.7 million for the Parks and Trails Grant Program • $50 thousand for a ten-year strategic state parks and trails plan • $7.5 million to be distributed by Met Council according to current statute for metro parks and trails • Outreach efforts to attract 350,000 visitors to state parks by June 2011, including: o $400 thousand for volunteer coordination, community assistance, and website upgrades o $216 thousand to expand the MN Naturalist Corps for college students o $1.3 million for 8 new naturalists and more programs focused on families and children o $70 thousand to improve visitor centers and expand hours o $350 thousand for new trail guides, touch screen computers, and MP3 audio o $760 thousand for better information centers and electronic kiosks o $155 thousand for interpretive services for trails o $5 thousand to create a new online state map integrating state parks, trails, and regional parks o $200 thousand to enhance cross country skiing “Minnesota’s parks and trails system is the most beautiful and well-maintained in the nation,” said State Rep. Leon Lillie. “This new, targeted funding will preserve and improve Minnesota’s most treasured outdoor assets from Como Park to Itasca State Park. The smart investments we make this year will ensure our children, and generations of Minnesotans to come, can enjoy the unique beauty and recreational wonder of Minnesota’s parks and trails.”
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