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Crow Wing County: Board considers agreement with Cass County on Pine River Watershed

The Pine River Watershed primarily sits within Cass and Crow Wing counties, with about 12,000 acres in Aitkin County and 347 acres in Hubbard County. Source: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

An agreement between Cass and Crow Wing counties could help organize water management efforts within the Pine River Watershed, which falls within both counties.

One Watershed, One Plan is a program initiated by the Local Government Water Roundtable to help local governments charged with water management responsibility be organized and develop focused implementation plans.

The Cass County Board has already signed the One Watershed, One Plan agreement. And the Crow Wing County Board on Nov. 28 authorized entering into a memorandum of agreement between Cass County and the Cass and Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation districts for the plan for the Pine River Watershed.

"It's just really a planning tool. This is not mandatory; this is not required by the state, but it's a voluntary program that the state has developed," Melissa Barrick, Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District manager, told the Crow Wing County board Nov. 21. "The goal is to just basically get the county involved so that they can be the ones that are able to set that policy and direction on where we should be spending dollars into the future."

Land Services Director Gary Griffin said the next step would be to get grant money and create a budget. No tax levy money would be used.

A policy committee of one commissioner and one supervisor from each county will form and act as a decision-making group for what kinds of projects go into the plan. The county boards will have final approval on any projects.

Commissioner Paul Thiede said his reservation about the plan is that counties participating in One Watershed, One Plan may receive more money from the state for projects than counties not participating but that might have watershed problems that affect more people.

"Wouldn't you want to be part of the One Watershed, One Plan then?" Griffin asked.

Thiede said he was still concerned, as the program is very new and has not been widely implemented.

"I'm expressing it, not as a vetoing idea, I'm expressing it as a concern that I've had all the way along," Thiede said.

Griffin added that implementing the plan now could give Cass and Crow Wing counties a leg up on designing it to fit their needs, as counties may be obligated to participate in the plan in the future and not have as much liberty with how to go about it.

In response to a concern Thiede raised about what would happen if a disagreement between counties were to arise, Barrick said bylaws and an operating structure would be created to guide how the policy committee and county boards work.

Chris Pence, of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources in Brainerd, said the plan is all about promoting local government.

"What it is is local government control," Pence said. "It's not the state telling you what they think you should do. It's you working with the state."

Commissioner Paul Koering expressed his concern about Crow Wing County's needs getting pushed to the back of the agenda and said his goal is to serve those who elected him. Thiede agreed.

Ultimately, Barrick said the plan should have positive repercussions.

"I think this plan is going to help ... alleviate some of the pressure from all these people wanting stuff," she said. "It's hard for people to understand certain projects may have a better benefit than other projects. And I think this is going to make it more strategic for us to work with these people and pick those spots that are higher priority for everyone and give us a better reason why we're not doing certain things in certain areas."

If either county wanted out of the agreement, it could do so with 30 days notice.

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