The state’s top water management watchdog is not moving fast enough to implement new enforcement powers designed to protect wetlands, some members of a House division said.
While taking testimony on the progress of various state environmental programs, several members of the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division said they saw little progress being made by the Board of Water and Soil Resources on some key new initiatives.
“We’ve given you some tools here (…) and we’d like those tools to be used,” said Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul).
At issue is newly enacted legislation that grants the board authority to issue administrative penalty orders to landowners who violate wetland conservation laws. BWSR Land and Water Section Manager Dave Weirens defended the board, which he said needs more time to debate how best to use the authority.
“It’s complicated, moving forward,” Weirens said.
That didn’t sit well with division chairwoman Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls), who called Weirens’ explanation “pretty mushy.”
“BWSR needs to provide training to local governments on administrative penalties, but it hasn’t even examined the issue yet,” she said, adding that the board knew well in advance of the new powers it would be asked to exercise.
Echoing Wagernius’ sentiments, Rep. Lyndon Carlson (DFL-Crystal) expressed concern that the board seems “not aware of what the legislative expectations were.”
Weirens said the board expected to have a work plan for the administrative penalty orders ready by November, and added that the board is in the process of hiring additional staff that he said would speed up its work with local governments.