Amended Lyon County buffer zone ordinance approved

MARSHALL — On a 3-2 split vote, the Lyon County Board voted at its Tuesday meeting to approve an amended version of the Lyon County Buffer Ordinance.

While all the commissioners believe that having local control over the policing of the buffer zone regulations, not all could agree on the wording regarding the landowners or managers who would be penalized if they remain out of compliance.

Lyon County Planning and Zoning Administrator and Soil and Water Administrator John Biren and his Zoning assistant Todd Hammer presented the ordinance resolution for approval and to field questions served by the commissioners.

The ordinance aligns with the state of Minnesota regulations requiring up to 50 feet of vegetation along public waterways and that there are permitted uses, conditional uses and nonconforming uses. This buffer zone area is to “protect state water resources from erosion and runoff pollution, stabilize soils, shores and banks and protect or provide reparian corridors.”

The disagreement involved the definition of landowners and managers to be held responsible for compliance and noncompliance fees.

County Attorney Rick Maes asked how the board was defining “landholder.”

“Who do you have to go to first to get the enforcement?” Maes asked.

With Soil and Water, the officials go to see the operator who is working the land as opposed to an owner who may live 2,000 miles away. The county may need that flexibility in order to get compliance.

“We sent out several hundred postcards at the beginning of October,” Biren said. “We even got one thank-you card back.”

Lessees might be out of compliance, but the landowners might not even know that their property is out of compliance,” Commissioner Rick Anderson said.

“I still think it’s the landowners’ responsibility,” Commissioner Steve Ritter said. “Let the state test us. If I need to know something I look to see whose name is on the title.” The person who owns the principal value is the owner of the property, someone in the galley said.

“I sit on the Planning and Zoning, too, and heard the discussion,” Commissioner Gary Crowley said. “When this law was passed, it said the landowner is to come and make sure it’s in compliance, no one else.”

The amended buffer ordinance gives the county the power to assess landowners or managers to put administrative penalty orders into effect and charge non-compliant landowners or managers a fee for every six months they are out of compliance. It also authorizes the county to forgive the penalty if the land holder finally does comply.

There will be no penalty for 0-11 months noncompliance.

After that there will be a $100 per parcel for the first six months (180 days) following the time period in the first level and $300 per parcel per month after six months for the time period following the second level.

Repeat violations will bring heftier fines: $50 per parcel per day for 180 days after issuance of the Corrective Action Notice and $200 per parcel per day for after 180 days following the time period immediately previous.

Any penalty assumed under the ongoing penalty assessment shall continue until the corrective action notice has been satisfied. And, the local authorities would be the ones to determine when to send out the notices.

“We’re not planning to send out enforcement notices until a lot later in the game than most other counties,” Biren said.

“I don’t understand how changing the language to include the lessee as well as the landowner isn’t helpful,” Commissioner Charlie Sanow said. “Having more people to contact just gives you more resources.”

Sanow wanted to know how including more contacts will affect enforcement.

“Will this language take away from the ordinance so it has no place to go or takes away from enforcement?” he asked. “I just don’t want this thing to end up in court.”

Sanow was concerned about landowners living 2,000 miles away and not having any idea what’s going on. Then it’s better to have more parties involved in the discussion, he said. He was reminded that post cards had been sent to the landowners through their taxes. That should be a red flag. They should no longer be in the dark about it, it was said.

“As soon as you get a watered-down version, it becomes a complicated matter,” citizen Robert Blomme said, “and less easy to enforce. I understand Charlie’s point of view, but ultimately it’s still the landowners’ responsibility.”

“Who would be fined if land is not in compliance?” Crowley said. “The landowner will be fined, that’s who.”

Board Chair Paul Graupmann didn’t seem to have a problem with it.

“We can approve this without removing the opportunity to work directly with the taxpayer or not,” Graupmann said.