Up in northern Douglas County, there's 775 acres of high quality sand/gravel prairie with five small lakes that are up for purchase by the state with state lottery money.
As Minnesota's politically divided Legislature tussles over environmental spending, an environmental group is saying that the 775 acres purchase is one of the projects that won't get funded if state leaders don't reach a budget agreement by June 30.
The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy is singling out Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, as a key player in determining whether such projects get funded this year.
The money comes from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which gets $60-$70 million a year as its share of Minnesota State Lottery proceeds, which itself amounts to about $1 billion.
You may recall a brouhaha from last year when Ingebrigtsen and other GOP members sought to steer a chunk of that trust fund money to waste-water treatment plants. Arguably, upgrading waste-water treatment plants is a worthy environmental expenditure, but environmentalists sued. They argue that although Minnesota does need to upgrade its waste-water plants, the trust fund is too small to pay for it, and that taking from that fund amounts to a robbery from many smaller projects that would benefit the great outdoors.
Now that money is getting hung up again.
The legislative spending process can dazzle the mind and defeat the heart, but the deal is that lawmakers have wrapped up that lottery fund money into a huge Omnibus Environment and Natural Resource Finance bill that would fund many other environmental projects, including state parks. Now Republican legislators are fighting with Gov. Tim Walz, threatening to hold up all that spending if Walz insists on using California standards for electric cars.
So that's what's at stake.
Republicans: Timmy, stop this electric car thing. Or we'll close state parks and derail all kinds of environmental projects.
Environmentalists: But trails! And parks! And habitat!
The thing is, if this 775 acres doesn't get funded by June 30, it won't get funded. Not this year. It's just one of the many projects across the state that will go by the wayside. Also at stake is money for research for invasive species. The University of Minnesota has been issuing pleas for support, highlighting its work on zebra mussels, invasive cattails, and other invasive species.
Two projects in Otter Tail County are also on hold: One would expand Glendalough State Park by 150 acres. The other provides funding for a trail from Perham to Pelican Rapids, which is under construction.
Aaron Klemz, spokesperson for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said these lottery-funded environmental projects are popular with the public and shouldn't become a political football. In 1988, 77 percent of Minnesotans voted in favor of this spending. He also said he fears that applicants will become less interested in applying for the funds if they look uncertain to be funded, as they devote so much of their blood, sweat and tears to putting together proposals.
I talked to Ingebrigtsen on Wednesday morning. He seemed pretty confident that a bill would get passed, and that the lottery-funded projects could even get pulled out of the huge omnibus bill and passed on its own, if necessary.
“I feel as close to 100 percent as you can be,” he said. “I think we’re doing real well.”
We'll wait and see.
“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.