When Potlatch owned a paper mill plant in Brainerd, the company also owned a large amount of land in Cass County used to grow timber to supply the plant.
Potlatch closed its paper mill operation in March 2002 and subsequently sold the mill, but not the timberlands they owned in surrounding counties. Since then, Potlatch has gradually been selling off its land holdings here.
Three examples of new uses for former Potlatch land came before Cass County commissioners Tuesday.
Lori Dowling, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regional director, and Dave Thomas, DNR division forestry manager, informed the board the DNR plans to accept about 2,900 acres in Cass from the Nature Conservancy, which acquired the land from Potlatch May 23, 2012.
They expect the title transfer to be complete in about seven months.
Dowling and Thomas said the DNR plans to continue managing the land for timber reproduction and to maintain public access for hunting and recreation uses. While Potlatch paid the county about $16,000 a year property taxes, they indicated they expect the state to pay the county about $30,000 payments in lieu of taxes annually once the title transfers.
They also said they would consider exchanging some or all of this land with the county to help consolidate ownership each government agency holds within the county. The planned DNR purchase will be land located in South Trelipe Township.
The DNR lists that property as containing “hardwood timber, extensive pine plantations and some natural pine stands.”
Cass County has obtained state legislative permission to receive over $1 million per year each of the last three years from the 3/8th cent Minnesota sales tax fund. Cass has purchased Potlatch and other land in several different townships under this program.
Tuesday, Land Commissioner Joshua Stevenson told the board he is scheduled to appear before a legislative committee in September to seek another $1,233,200 from that fund to make additional land purchases.
Clark Camilli also appeared before the board to represent Winnemucca Farms. That firm is in the process of completing a state-mandated environmental assessment worksheet needed to purchase about 1,400 acres from Potlatch in Byron Township to convert the use to a potato farm.
Winnemucca’s parent company owns a potato processing plant at Park Rapids that turns potatoes into French fries and other consumer products. It also owns a potato seed plant at Staples.
Camilli said Winnemucca Farms hopes to begin planting potatoes by spring 2013. Potlatch would market the standing timber, then Winnemucca will prepare the soil for potato planting.
The plan would be for a three or four year crop rotation, with crops such as corn and soybeans planted in alternate years when potatoes are not raised, Camilli said.
Stevenson told Camilli the county might be interested in selling a few scattered 40-acre tracts adjacent to land the firm is purchasing from Potlatch to fill in gaps in their tracts in that area.
Once Winnemucca receives all its state permits, the farm will come under the county’s zoning regulations for agricultural uses.
In other land department business Tuesday, Stevenson reported all work has been completed on a county-U.S. Forest Service program to plant red and white pine seedlings on 92 acres in Kego Township. The project was completed in less time than anticipated and under budget, he said.
The 3/8th cent state sales tax paid for that project. In addition to planting, the project included fencing and capping the top of seedlings to prevent deer browsing that otherwise could kill or stunt tree growth, Stevenson said.
The county board authorized Stevenson to spent $7,752 to have the Rainforest Alliance conduct an annual audit to enable the county to maintain its Smartwood sustainable forest certification.
Stevenson said this amount is consistent with what the county paid last year and amounts neighboring counties are paying for audits this year’s.
The board voted to authorize the DNR to complete a controlled burn this fall as a part of the Leech River Oak Planting Project in Unorganized Township. The county site is adjacent to state and federal land that also will be burned.