This week, Northwest Minnesota was lucky enough to be the site of Governor Mark Dayton’s first statewide visit as chief executive. I was honored for the opportunity to show him several communities in our region that have a lot to offer the state but, unfortunately, are too often forgotten. The fact that Gov. Dayton made his first official trip to our corner of the state is a very positive sign for all of us who are hoping Northwest Minnesota will be a strong participant in the state’s economic recovery.
The Governor’s visit was part of his promise to get Minnesota working again. As part of that goal, we attended the ribbon-cutting at Northstar Agri Industries’ canola crushing facility in Hallock. We also met with key job providers, Digi-Key and Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls. He was able to see first-hand the potential that our area holds in job creation and economic development, a crucial message for a new Governor to receive.
The Governor and I also were joined by the newly appointed commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, Tom Landwehr, and newly elected Representative Dan Fabian. This fall, Gov. Dayton made a promise to return to our area and listen to local concerns about government regulations that are hampering business development and creating red tape for local residents. The DNR commissioner was in tow specifically to discuss these concerns with county officials.
I’ve been working for years to change some of the unnecessary, burdensome regulations that our residents and businesses face, but state agencies haven’t been very receptive in the past. This week’s visit was a positive signal that the new Governor – and new agencies – hopefully will be open to policy changes that local officials have been requesting for years.
Chief among residents’ concerns I’ve heard about is the requirement for new septic systems to rely on mound systems rather than trenches, a policy that could cost property owners thousands of additional dollars without any scientific proof that one system is superior to the other. These types of regulations make no sense. The state telling us to install septics that cost at least three times as much as what’s really needed means extra money for individuals and businesses that already are being squeezed in this economy.
This is a good example of a very region-specific concern that is being micromanaged by the state. This week’s gubernatorial visit allowed us to highlight why the state needs to begin reviewing some of these regulations that don’t work so we can better focus on the ones that do.
In addition, our group discussed a list of ideas to improve government efficiency that have been compiled by several Northwest Minnesota counties. Some of those issues include:
· Merge overlapping divisions within the DNR, Board of Water and Soil Resources and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that deal with waters of the state, eliminating overlap and creating a “one-stop-shop;”
· Create a Greater Minnesota Advisory Panel to regularly meet with the Governor and legislative leaders;
· Streamline the cumbersome permitting processes for wetlands, drainage, impaired waters and storm water pollution prevention;
· Halt any further state land acquisition and review the public value and management of currently owned lands;
· Allow DNR ditch and land taxes to be determined by a county assessor;
· Continue to support the state’s portion of federal disaster funding for infrastructure to ensure flood mitigation needs are met.
While no promises can be made at this point as to what will be changed, I am planning to introduce legislation regarding many of these issues. With his visit this week, the Governor and Commissioner certainly have communicated their willingness to continue working with us on these concerns, a conversation I welcome as this legislative session develops.