Governor Pawlenty's recent veto of state shoreland zoning rule revisions hardly came as a surprise. As if reading a page torn from a 1980s Wise Use Movement playbook, the governor rationalized his veto by saying "one size fits all" state standards usurp local control and private property rights. DNR commissioner Mark Holsten, ever the dutiful minion, said his agency will trudge back to the drawing board.
While we can speculate about the governor's motives for his veto, one fact stands out. This supposedly overreaching revision of zoning rules was developed by his administration with Holsten's guidance and was years in the making. The process included plenty of public input, local pilot programs and close involvement from an array of special interests, also known as "stakeholders." If the end product was so bad it deserved a veto, than Pawlenty and Holsten have none other than themselves to blame.
The rest of us can shake our heads at what appears to be a supreme waste of time, taxpayers' money and effort. Existing shoreland rules are outdated and poorly enforced. Revisions are needed, though some influential special interests beg to differ. After putting off the revisions for the length of his term, the Governor's veto effectively extends his delaying tactic into the future. It's a legacy only a developer can love.
This do-nothing legacy contrasts with the actions of former Gov. Arne Carlson, who in the twilight of his second term launched an initiative to focus conservation efforts on what is arguably Minnesota's most precious natural resource—our 10,000 lakes. Unfortunately, neither his successor, Jesse Ventura, nor the Legislature sustained his vision. Since then, state agencies, counties, lake associations and others have toiled in the trenches of conservation, but political efforts on behalf of lakes have been piecemeal at best.
Without a political champion, it is unlikely we'll see much progress in revising shoreland rules or sustained efforts to protect and improve our lakes. Now is the perfect time for such a leader to emerge. Change is coming to the governor's mansion and long term conservation funding is available through the Legacy Amendment and the LCCMR. Long-term conservation plans are being developed, but no politician has stepped up to carry them forward.
As for shoreland revisions, we'll have to wait until Pawlenty passes the baton to see if the next administration will choose to pick up the pieces. While some property owners and developers resist any control over their use of lakeshore and adjacent public waters, shoreland revisions won't lead to plummeting property values or the demise of the cabin culture. What revisions may do, if coupled with fair and consistent enforcement, is give Minnesota's lakes a little more ecological breathing room.
What revisions won't do is turn back the clock. During the last 50 years, Minnesota's lakes suffered tremendous losses of habitat and water quality due to shoreline development. Better zoning rules can't restore lost bulrush beds, nesting cover or spawning grounds, but they will help protect what remains.
If we want to pass on a legacy of clean, natural lakes to future Minnesotans, we need to confront a couple of simple truths. The first is that our collective lakeside culture lacks an aesthetic and an appreciation for nature. In short, suburbia isn't pretty whether it surrounds a subdivision cul de sac or a sparkling lake. The second is that the more we manage the drainage of surface waters, the less control we have over water quality.
Drainage is where the rubber hits the road in Minnesota lake conservation. Water is whisked off the landscape of the state's developed and agricultural areas far more quickly than Nature intended. Drains and ditches bypass the landscape's natural filtration, sending nutrients and silt to the lakes, which act catch basins. Nutrient loading causes profound changes to lake ecosystems, including the loss of aquatic vegetation, algae blooms and the decline of desirable fish species. Ecologically compromised lakes are less desirable for people, too.
The bottom line is the quality of Minnesota lakes reflects the quality of care they receive from us. We'd need fewer zoning rules if everyone had a simple respect for the natural world. And when it comes to showing respect for the environment, we need leaders who are willing to lead by example.
Airdate: August 20, 2010