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Environment omnibus bill signed (new law)

Published (5/30/2008)
By Nick Busse
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Restrictions on ballast water discharges into Lake Superior, free state park admission for disabled veterans and maximizing state revenues from school trust fund lands are among the provisions of a new law.

Sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) and Sen. Dennis Frederickson (R-New Ulm), the law applies mostly to the Department of Natural Resources. Unless otherwise noted, it takes effect Aug. 1, 2008.

Ships that travel to Minnesota ports through Lake Superior will face new restrictions on ballast water discharges. The law requires all ships operating in Lake Superior to take on and discharge ballast water according to a ballast water management plan designed to minimize the spread of invasive aquatic species. Plans must be approved by the Pollution Control Agency, and ships must keep logbooks that record information about each individual ballast operation.

In an effort to maximize the long-term financial output of the state’s school trust fund lands — lands granted by the federal government and managed by the DNR to produce revenues for public schools — the law expands the Permanent School Fund Advisory Committee. The goal is to improve the committee’s oversight of the DNR, and to get it to focus more on increasing revenues to schools, as opposed to simply managing the lands’ natural resources.

Another section of the law allows the DNR to use proceeds from the sale of administrative sites to remodel or upgrade other department facilities. Currently, those proceeds go into the department’s land acquisition account.

A process for expedited land exchanges between the state and local governments is provided for in the law, with the goal of making it easier to consolidate public lands — something the DNR says will cut costs and help reduce forest fragmentation. The law spells out conditions whereby land exchanges can forgo the normal land appraisals in favor of an abbreviated process.

A section of the law will allow veterans with a “total and permanent service-connected disability” free admittance to state parks. The DNR must grant free annual park permits for veterans who present the necessary documentation from the U.S. Veterans Administration or the U.S. military.

The law also establishes the “Minnesota Forests for the Future” program to protect state forestland from destruction and fragmentation by private development. The goal is to preserve forests while keeping the actual land in private owners’ hands by letting the DNR purchase easements and require forestry management plans from landowners. Identical language was signed into law in CH368, the omnibus game, fish and lands law.


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