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Editorial - Help shape shoreland rules for next 20 years

A note from the Echo Press editorial board: The following guest editorial was written and submitted by Martha Brand, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy; Marian Bender, executive director of Minnesota Waters; Phil Hunsicker, director of Lakes Region 1,000 Friends of Minnesota; and David Zentner, Izaak Walton League of Minnesota.

To all Minnesotans concerned about shorelands: This is your opportunity to help set the course of shoreland development for the next 20 to 30 years.

Look around at developments on our lakes, rivers, and streams. Have things changed in the past 20 years? You bet they have and scientific studies indicate that for fish, wildlife and water quality, it has not been for the better.

It is now clear that Minnesota's remaining shorelands are under greater development pressures. Some of these are high-density planned unit developments. Some developments funnel lake access from many lots away from a lake. Some are proposed on lakeshore that is simply unsuitable for development. Others are proposed on sensitive shorelands of small, shallow, wildlife lakes in western Minnesota, or large, nutrient-poor lakes in northern Minnesota. Still others are proposed for one of the small streams found throughout the state that simply can't sustain much, if any, development without more protective rules than we have today.

It has been almost 20 years since statewide rules were revised. The Minnesota Legislature recognized that the current rules are not adequate and last year directed the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to revise the shoreland rules. This rulemaking presents what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect Minnesota's waters.

Please attend the open house tomorrow, Thursday, at the Alexandria Technical College beginning at 6:30 p.m. and let the DNR know that you are concerned about the inadequacy of today's rules. Those rules have fostered the shoreland development trends that resulted in degradation of fish and wildlife habitats and water quality.

Specifically, you may want to let them know that the new rules should:

• Update outdated and ambiguous definitions, so that rules are interpreted in a way to conserve shoreland resources and improve uniformity and consistency with respect to enforcement.

• Offer special protections for many shallow lakes and marginal shorelands.

• Include adequate setbacks for structures, and leave no administrative loopholes that weaken the ability of local governments to require structure placement that maximizes shoreland protections. Opportunities for variances at the local level should be greatly reduced and/or restricted.

• Contain stronger language requiring vegetative buffers on shorelands. Recent research confirms the fish, wildlife, and water quality benefits of maintaining more natural shorelands.

• Contain stronger, more restrictive language related to high density "planned unit developments" and other similar development schemes. Several counties have even enacted temporary moratoria on these types of developments because the existing rules were not adequate.

• Treat resorts differently than other types of high density developments in order to help preserve this Minnesota heritage.

• Include incentives for conservation subdivisions that offer great potential for continued development of our finite shoreland resources with minimal impacts.

This is the one opportunity that we have to set the rules for the next 20 to 30 years. By that time, the state demographer's office projects that 1.3 million more people will live in Minnesota. We must help the DNR so they can demonstrate the leadership and vision needed to set rules in preparation for this future.

To learn more about what the DNR is proposing see:

Your help is needed now to ensure that Minnesota will have a new set of statewide shoreland protection standards that are not weaker than we have today. Development interests are strong and well connected throughout the state. You can bet that they will be weighing in heavily for less protective shoreland rules just as the dock industry and its constituents were able to get DNR to permit less protective dock rules this past spring.

Hunters, anglers, shoreland owners, and other conservationists must step up and help the DNR set reasonable regulations that are protective of our public water resources and habitats while allowing for appropriate levels and types of development.