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The pause that refreshes *


Fri, Feb 16th, 2007
Posted in Commentary

Our Root River has put up with a lot. One hundred and forty years ago when my great grandfather settled here, he perched a log cabin on the river's edge and built a mill. We've not let the river alone since: we've straightened it then twisted it, drug it and dumped in it, fished it and swam it, cursed it and praised it, stripped it and planted by it, and we've polluted it. She is a quiet beauty, our Root River, as is the valley she inhabits. But, how much longer can her peaceful beauty endure?

The Fillmore County Board of Commissioners is giving us a chance to think carefully about this river's future. They have imposed a moratorium for up to 12 months on the development and expansion of campgrounds, planned unit developments (PUDS) and subdivisions throughout the county while they sort out a myriad of conflicting zoning requirements. I like to think of this as the pause that refreshes and one that will lead to the protection of our beloved Root River.

Our county has been rediscovered and there is much good in that. Tourism has brought in a fresh source of income; pursuit of new business and small industry is vital for all of us who want to live here; and an increase in land values, including non-agricultural, is clearly of benefit to existing landowners. But with this rediscovery has come a demand for the development of more and more of our riverfront. How ironic that the very resource which attracts people here may be destroyed because of that. If we do not take this opportunity to pause and realize how vital this resource has always been to us on so many levels - economic, social, historical and spiritual - the Root River may well end up like the shores of most Minnesota lakes: subdivided, aluminum-sided, asphalt paved and dandelion detoxified.

When we build these days it seems we build cathedrals - testaments to ourselves - be it massive homes, sprawled subdivisions, or metallic campgrounds by the dozens. Let's just do our building elsewhere then within our scenic valley. Realistically, how much more can our Root River give-up before she gives out? Her natural beauty is a testament to something far greater than ourselves. We now have a chance to protect our Root River and I think most will agree she's earned it.

Across this nation, folks have been finding creative ways to preserve unique landscapes like the Root River valley without tromping on the rights of individual landowners or causing them economic hardship. In Florida, the state legislature worked with counties, landowners, and The Nature Conservancy to stop further development of critical farm, ranch and environmentally sensitive areas through land purchase and lease back programs. In Georgia, they created a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program that protects forests and streams, scenic views, agricultural areas, and historical and recreational resources by transferring development rights from areas designated for protection to areas designated for future growth. Under this program, affected landowners recoup their land's fair financial value. In Minnesota, as well as other states, conservation easement programs with public or non-profit entities are possible; you agree to limit the use and development of your land but you can still sell it, or transfer it whenever you want while the terms of use pass-on. In many instances, this has made land far more valuable than it would have been otherwise. Another option is to donate one's land to either a public or non-profit entity, with tax benefits attached. There are also models of land use zoning ordinances with several specifically designed to protect agricultural and forest lands, waterways, as well as ways to create conservation subdivisions. And, there are local organizations with experience to help individuals and communities choose the path that works best for them and their lands such as The Nature Conservancy, 1000 Friends of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Land Trust.

The County Commissioners are giving us a chance to pause and think carefully about the use of all of our land in Fillmore County. We have the opportunity to shape what will inevitably be our legacy: how well will we leave the gift of this land to those who follow us? I am hoping our Root River and her valley will be one of those gifts we pass on, refreshed and protected.

Jan Smaby is a resident of Peterson and was a member of the Fillmore County 2006 Comprehensive Planning Committee

*Coca-Cola

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