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Lyon Co. to send out buffer law letters

Landowners will be warned of last chance to avoid penalties for noncompliance

MARSHALL — Owners of more than 200 land parcels in Lyon County will be getting letters warning that they need to plant a wider buffer around drainage ditches or other bodies of water on their property, Lyon County Soil and Water Conservation District staff said Tuesday.

The letters will give landowners one last opportunity to get the buffers planted, and avoid possibly having to pay an administrative penalty, said SWCD Administrator John Biren.

The plan to send out the letters was discussed as part of an update to Lyon County commissioners on enforcement of the state’s buffer law. The controversial law, which went into effect in 2018, calls for strips of vegetation to be planted around ditches and public bodies of water. Lyon County has opted to be the local enforcement authority for the law.

Biren said the Lyon County SWCD has updated its list of noncompliant properties, using a combination of aerial images and physical site assessments.

“We do have a large number (of properties) who have complied,” Biren said. And of the properties not in compliance with the buffer law, some weren’t very far off from being compliant.

“Our plan is to send a letter to these noncompliant properties,” giving landowners another chance to plant buffers out to the right width, or find an alternative practice to protect the waterway, Biren said.

SWCD technician Luke Olson said the district will be sending out 161 letters involving buffers around public waters, and 109 letters about buffers around drainage ditches.

Landowners who receive the letters will have until March 25 to contact the Lyon County SWCD about the buffers on their property. Otherwise, they will receive a corrective action notice. If landowners plant the needed buffers this spring, they must do so by July 1, Biren said.

Biren said the past couple of years have posed some challenges for buffer compliance. Extreme weather has caused flooding, and has shifted banks along some public waters.

“We’re going to work with those individuals,” affected by those changes, Biren said.

The Lyon County SWCD also has a cost-sharing assistance program, that can help landowners either plant the needed buffer strips or use alternative solutions.

Under county ordinances, landowners that get a corrective action notice for buffer noncompliance have 10 months to comply with the buffer law. Then, the administrative penalty is $100 per month for each noncompliant parcel of land, Biren and Olson said. After six months, the penalty increases to $300 per month for each parcel.

County commissioners did show some caution about the plan to send out notification letters to landowners. Commissioner Rick Anderson asked if any other Minnesota counties had sent out notices like this yet. If there was a potential for the county to get sued over buffer enforcement, it could happen then, he said.

“I have not heard of any lawsuits yet,” Biren said.

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