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Land exchange twists and turns now includes taking private land off tax rolls

The long-running debate on how to compensate the state of Minnesota for lands locked inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area has taken another bizzare twist. This time thousands of acres of private property would be removed from the tax rolls.
At a meeting of county commissioners from Lake, Cook and St. Louis counties on Wednesday, were briefed on a proposal from the DNR, Forest Service and the Conservation Fund to buy private lands owned by Potlatch outside the BWCA and exchange them for Minnesota School Trust lands inside the BWCA.
In the end there would be MORE land outside the BWCA under public ownership. There would be FEWER dollars coming to Lake, Cook and St. Louis counties.
This proposal was met with disgust from Cook County commissioner Garry Gamble, St. Louis County Commissioner Tom Rukavina and Lake County commissioners Rich Sve and Rick Goutermont.
The three counties would be in a lose-lose situation if this proposal was to occur. The loss in property taxes paid by a private land owner would be much more than any replacement funds paid by the federal government.
Rukavina, as is his way, cut straight to the point. He said the DNR should be in jail for not managing the trust lands for the past 50 years.
John Ongaro, who works for St. Louis County, pointed out the idea of exchanging private land for school trust lands is illegal. The 1964 Wilderness Act provides only for land exchanges, not sales.
It was also pointed out that there is no money flowing from Washington D.C. to buy lands located within a wilderness area. The feeling is there is no urgency to a purchase as the Boundary Waters is already protected from development.
The environmental groups are pushing the Conservation Fund to come up with a plan that hurts, not helps the state School Trust Fund. If Aaron Vande Lind, the state’s new School Trust Land Administrator, can’t figure this out, then he is not doing his job.
We question why the DNR/state continues to bow down to environmental groups and ignore state law. The state must continue to find ways to maximize revenue from these lands. A sale is a one-time throat cutting of future income.
There is still a process moving forward to exchange around 38,000 acres of land but it was announced at Thursday’s meeting that the environmental groups now want lands with low value mineral rights. What this has to do with anything we do not know. Mineral rights are not being exchanged here. The anti-mining, anti-mining rhetoric has no place at the table.
The state of Minnesota has been derelict in managing lands it owns within the BWCA. The loss of revenues is in the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. Federal law states the lands must be exchanged, not sold. As Rukavina has pointed out, state and federal elected officials must not let bureaucrats ignore the law in pushing for a land sale.
The Conservation Fund is looking for a way to keep the state from getting what it is legally entitled to, lands that will generate revenue outside of the BWCA.
The end result of this proposal is more land off the tax rolls, period. That is not a step forward, it is a step backward. Thankfully our county elected officials are able to see through the smokescreen and recognize this proposal for what it really is: another shaking down of the taxpayers.

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