Vermillion River: Watershed rules have some upsetA proposed ordinance regulating water resource management along the Vermillion River’s watershed is causing a bit of a stir among township residents, but watershed officials say it is nothing that has not been on the books for several years.
By: Michelle Leonard, The Farmington Independent
A proposed ordinance regulating water resource management along the Vermillion River’s watershed is causing a bit of a stir among township residents, but watershed officials say it is nothing that has not been on the books for several years.
The rules within the proposed Water Resources Management Ordinance have been in effect for a few years, but now the townships are being asked if they would like to handle the permitting processes that are otherwise handled by the Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization.
But Eureka Township resident Carol Cooper is concerned the ordinance takes away rights of property owners. Particularly, because any resident whose property is in the watershed, and who wishes to divide it for any reason, must get permission to do so, and then must adhere to a strict set of guidelines.
Already in play
According to Dakota County watershed administrator Mark Zabel, the ordinance is nothing new.
It all stems from a 1982 Metropolitan Comprehensive Stormwater Management Act, which ruled that all counties in the seven-county metro area form watershed organizations to regulate activity. In an effort to mainstream the requirements of local watersheds, the Vermillion River Joint Powers Organization began working through a regulation process in 2003. The group adopted a watershed plan in 2005, followed by a set of rules and standards. The meetings and findings have always been open to the public.
But that is not what the ordinance is about, at least, not right now. Right now, Zabel said, the VRJPO wants to know if the 12 townships within the 335-mile watershed want to take over permitting for projects that involve land in the watershed.
“This doesn’t change anything,” Zabel said. “The rural communities have the ability to issue permits. This is about the choice of the townships, whether they want to do that as part of their permitting authority or not.”
The ordinance lays out some specific guidelines, many of which come into play if a property owner decides to split their property for development. For a number of reasons spelled out in the ordinance — stormwater pollution prevention, wetland management and wetland and waterway buffer protection — property owners must get a permit before any kind of land split or development that would affect the natural terrain along the Vermillion River.
“If someone owns the property and is not doing anything with it, nothing happens,” Zabel said. “Or if they sell it as a whole, still nothing happens. But if it’s subdivided, there are provisions for it.”
The area townships involved are Castle Rock, Empire, Eureka and Hampton, as well as the city of Coates and the city of Hampton and six other southern Dakota County townships and cities. Each governing body has the choice of whether to adopt the ordinance and take on the permitting responsibilities, Zabel said. The VRWJPO will do the permits for those communities that chose not to do the permitting “in house.” The ordinance is “the minimum,” he added, and local communities could be more stringent if the body so chose.
A decision is expected from each of the communities involved by April 23.
Cooper, though, hopes township officials will be a little more skeptical of what is included in the document before they approve it.
Having read through the ordinance, as well as the 200-plus page rules and standards that is the guide by which the ordinance is written, Cooper says it restricts landowners rights.
“If a farmer dies and his family splits the land, or someone wants to build a house on the corner of the land ... there’s lots of little reasons why people might want to split their property,” she said.
But under the terms of the ordinance, the landowner must get a permit, and that permit requires approval given only after the landowner can prove the activity will not disturb or harm the watershed. Getting that permit will be costly, she said.
She also points to a section near the end that stipulates failure to follow the ordinance can result in criminal misdemeanor charges. To her interpretation, that means that if a landowner does not plant exactly the right kind of vegetation to meet the ordinance specifications, he or she could be charged.
Plus, there is the potential that the ordinance could harm a property’s value, and there is nothing written regarding any kind of compensation for land taken or used for wetland conservation.
“It’s all very mind-boggling to me,” she said. “A lot of people are concerned.”
Which may be true enough. Zabel reported a full house at public hearings held in Ravenna and Castle Rock townships recently. But Cooper says many of the people she talked with simply do not understand the ordinance, or what she sees as its implications.
“It’s been under everyone’s radar because no one made a concerted effort to let people know,” she said. “Most people were completely unaware of it until fairly recently.”