WALKER -- The Mississippi Headwaters Board and its specialized zoning program to locally manage land along the Upper Mississippi face uncertainty because of potential state and local funding cuts this year.
Kent Lokkesmoe, DNR waters director, sent a letter to Cass County Board Chair Jim Demgen and other board chairs of the eight Mississippi Headwaters counties outlining the situation and options.
The Mississippi Headwaters Board, made up of representatives from the eight counties abutting the northernmost portions of the river, was organized in 1980. It hired a full-time administrator in 1985. Since then, the MHB administrative office has been housed in the Cass County Courthouse in Walker.
According to Lokkesmoe, state statutes always have specified the counties held primary responsibility for funding MHB, but allowed the counties to seek additional funding from federal, state or other grant or donation sources.
MHB is about the last project the state has cut from its funding programs of this type, Lokkesmoe states in his letter. That $130,000 annual state allocation can be expected to disappear this year, he predicted.
Each of the eight member counties would have to find $16,250 not currently in the 2003 budgets to fund MHB at the level the state allocation has, he said.
MHB could continue to function without a staff or budget by member counties taking turns arranging for MHB's monthly meetings to manage provisions of the MHB plan and ordinance and consider individual variance applications to change from land uses allowed it, Lokkesmoe indicated.
MHB could not just exist on paper without the board holding regular meetings, he said.
If any or all member counties withdrew from MHB, land management along that portion of the river would transfer to the DNR, but still be managed under the MHB ordinance, Lokkesmoe indicated. That river portion would transfer to the state's Wild and Scenic River System.
The Legislature could repeal the MHB statute, leaving counties to manage the land under county zoning ordinances. However, Lokkesmoe indicates this would be inconsistent with state and federal recognition of the area as one needing special protection.
It likely would renew congressional interest in passing federal legislation to designate the Upper Mississippi as a federal Wild and Scenic Area. Both houses of Congress and the president would have to approve the change.
MHB could be abolished and the DNR manage the river shoreline under the MHB ordinance without county involvement.
"DNR is interested in conferring with the MHB and each of its member counties as these options, and possibly others, are explored," Lokkesmoe said.
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