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Commentary: Where Legacy and Clean Water funds actually go

A meeting took place in our district a couple of weeks ago where some important questions arose regarding the use of Legacy and Clean Water Funds. Without much comment, I will simply give some facts about the where Legacy dollars are being spent, which will hopefully address some of the questions that were asked.

The State of Minnesota currently owns around 8.5 million acres. This is an increase from the 5.6 million in state hands back in 2011. These 8.5 million acres equal about 17 percent of the state. The Federal Government owns another 8 percent, of which waters make up about 4 percent. There are also acres owned by nonprofit organizations, but it is harder to get a solid number on these without information from all 87 counties in Minnesota.

The Legacy Amendment expires in 2033. It is estimated that land acquisitions using state money will reach as much as 275,000 acres just looking at the Outdoor Heritage portion of Legacy funds alone. If the current trend continues, about 40 percent of these will be purchased without Payment in Lieu of taxes (PILT).

This year, the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) recommends buying nearly 11,000 acres, while they only plan on enhancing less than 50,000 existing acres or existing state lands. Meaning, they would rather buy more, instead of taking care of what the state already owns.

With existing requests, we could have enhanced/improved about 150,000 acres of land for less money than what the LSOHC recommends.

We are still looking through Legacy funds requests for the arts and cultural heritage appropriations. I will update our community on those are when I get a final bill.

In round numbers, the Clean Water Council recommendations include $20 million for proposed projects, $69.8 million for grants to local areas. Some of these dollars can also be diverted to administrative and monitoring costs. There is $9 million to acquire easements. In addition, there is $116.3 million for monitoring resources and studies, and a $4 million appropriation for administrative costs.

Again, I hope the information above answers some of the questions my fellow legislators and I were asked at the League of Women Voters town hall. I understand the frustration that many expressed that night, and I was happy to be available to answer questions from all those who took the time to come out, even those who drove in from outside of our community. I was also disappointed at reports that calls to my office, and even to my wife, by event organizers were disrespectful, and clearly not aimed at opening the door to a productive conversation.

The only way that we can work out our political differences is through fact-based, respectful dialog. I look forward to more productive discussions with people from our district in the near future that respect everyone who wants to have their concerns addressed."