Letter to the editor: What's different about this buffer law?
To the editor:
There is something special about this "new and improved" 103F.48 buffer bill. It comes with its own enforcement agency, something we didn't have for buffers in the past.
Back in the "dark ages" of buffer law 103E, buffers were primarily installed on ditches to help maintain the ditch. The responsibility of creating those buffers fell to the counties and watershed districts in which the ditches were located. The system was working. There were no fines, no threats, and no nasty letters to farmers, yet buffers were installed. Wait a minute. Aren't farmers people who hate buffers? Won't they fight you every step of the way for installing buffers unless you threaten them? If that's the case, how were other buffers installed without threats and fines? Simple. The counties and watershed districts were responsible for their installation, and they did it according to the timeline in the statute. The farmers were not threatened, yet the majority of them complied.
However, this new buffer law is different. It came with its own enforcer, The Board of Soil and Water Resources (BWSR). Up at the legislator, there was a big fearful question. "If counties won't enforce this law, how will it get enforced? We must write the law so that if counties don't enforce it, then BWSR can enforce it." Okay, hang on a minute. Let's try that logic for speeding. "If the local cops won't enforce our new speed limit, then we have to send out the state troopers to enforce it." Usually the legislator passes a law, and the local governments enforce it. That system is working. I mean, local cops are enforcing state speed limit laws, right? So, why the enforcement concern for this law? Maybe they knew that people would be up in arms about it from the very beginning, and they had to assign a special government agency to keep everyone in line with threats and fines.
Let's look at some facts.
• The counties or watershed districts enforced the previous buffer laws without specially "electing jurisdiction" because, according to the Minnesota Constitution, the ditches were already within their jurisdiction.
• The buffer law says the fine cannot exceed $500. However, BWSR has set up a fine schedule above and beyond $500 to beat the farmers into submission.
• Why is BWSR called in as the cop, judge, jury and executioner for this one particular law? BWSR was originally created as an advisory board. They don't have authority to enforce other land-use laws.
This particular law is pretty unique to get its own enforcer. Why would that be? I propose because it was a bad law, and everyone knew the only way to enforce it would be by brute force. This is a fairly law-abiding society. However, this law was not written to a law-abiding society. It was written knowing that people would justifiably want to break it. Therefore it had to be more painful to break the law than to follow it.
So what is the answer to the question, "What Makes This New Buffer Law Special?" The answer is "Enforcement." So, maybe instead of trying to beat people into submission, we should repeal it.