WILLMAR, Minn. - While some parts of Minnesota farm country struggle with a new state law requiring buffer strips around pubic waters, implementation in Kandiyohi County's appears to be off to a good start with 97 percent compliance countywide under a plan they took into their own hands.
Angelica Hopp, buffer and drainage technician for Kandiyohi County in central Minnesota who began her newly created position in January, recently gave the County Board of Commissioners a report on how compliance and enforcement are faring during the first weeks the ordinance has been in effect.
"It's been really good," she said.
Of the 6,839 parcels in Kandiyohi County that lie along public waters and fall under the new Minnesota buffer strip law, 97 percent meet the requirements, Hopp said.
The state has begun requiring vegetation strips along public waterways to reduce runoff and promote water quality. Kandiyohi County opted last year to manage its own enforcement of the buffer law and adopted an ordinance that lays out the process and the penalties for landowners who do not comply.
One of Hopp's first tasks since coming on board has been to develop a process for determining and enforcing compliance.
The goal is to be objective, she said. "Everybody gets treated the same."
So far, questions and potential concerns have been resolved through conversations with landowners, Hopp said.
In cases where discussion does not lead to a resolution, the process goes to the next step of issuing a corrective action notice. If this still does not result in compliance, administrative penalties are issued.
Only a relatively small handful of parcels in Kandiyohi County do not appear to be in compliance yet with the buffer law, and some of them have Soil and Water Conservation District waivers, Hopp said.
Field reviews also are pending for 110 parcels to determine if they are compliant, she said.
For buffer strips along public ditches, the picture looks somewhat different. As of mid-March, 60 percent are in compliance.
The portion of the buffer law addressing public ditches does not go into effect until Nov. 1, however, giving landowners more than half a year to meet the requirements.
For now, Kandiyohi County is not focusing on buffer compliance along public ditches, Hopp said. "We're not actively working on these. We're working on public waters."
Although the buffer law was contentious as it worked its way through the Legislature, almost all of the landowners she has dealt with so far have been cooperative, Hopp said.
The County Commissioners have had few phone calls from constituents about the implementation of the buffer ordinance, said Rollie Nissen, chairman of the County Board.
"I've heard a lot of objections to the entire idea" but little negative feedback on the county's role, he said.