Cook County will see reduction of payments for land inside BWCA
Despite their attempts to overturn the findings of a recent appraisal of land inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, three counties in northeastern Minnesota will receive less money from the federal government than they hoped for.
Cook County officials were informed May 12 by representatives from the U.S. Forest Service that the county will receive less than the previous amount of approximately $2 million from the federal government in the form of payment in lieu of taxes for land inside the BWCA, according to county officials.
The annual payments to the county from the federal government for BWCA lands will be approximately $1.35 million for the next decade.
The good news in the funding reduction is that in 2019 there was speculation among county assessors, elected officials, county attorneys and other staff that the funding would be reduced. Cook County officials have therefore been setting aside money each year thinking they might have to pay some of it back to the federal government, which, in fact, they do.
The most recent appraisal of the BWCA – prior the 2019 effort and the subsequent review of that work – was done in 2009. Following that review, Cook County’s annual payments increased from just over $704,000 to just over $2 million.
In 1948, United States lawmakers passed the Thye-Blatnik Act to buy resorts and private lands in what would eventually be named the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The bill also provides payments in-lieu-of-taxes (PILT) to Cook, Lake and St. Louis counties for federal wilderness land to make up for lost private property taxes. A valuation process is completed every 10 years to determine how much each county receives through this piece of legislation.
St. Louis, Lake and Cook Counties found out in May the valuation of federal lands inside the BWCA. The appraised value of the 242,590 acres of Boundary Waters wilderness within Cook County came in at just over $194 million, according to Cook County Assessor Bob Thompson. Based on that, the county will receive approximately $1.35 million, according to County Administrator James Joerke.
WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs checked in with Joerke following a May 24 meeting of the county board and shares this report about the BWCA payments from the federal government to Cook County. Audio below.