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Crow Wing County Board: Support of timberland acquisition by DNR withheld

Backus Area Forest Supervisor Joel Lemberg requested last month the Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners approve the purchase of 80 acres from Potlatch Minnesota Timberlands near Crosslake for state forest purposes through The Nature Conservancy, which would in turn would donate it to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Submitted photo

The Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners withheld its support for a proposal by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to acquire land because of tax revenue concerns.

Backus Area Forest Supervisor Joel Lemberg requested last month the board approve the purchase of 80 acres from Potlatch Minnesota Timberlands near Crosslake for state forest purposes through The Nature Conservancy, which would in turn donate it to the DNR.

"Acquisition of this land will help consolidate state ownership, provide public access, prevent forest fragmentation and enhance management efficiency. The area will be open to public hunting, trapping and nature observation," Lemberg told the board before its Tuesday meeting.

The Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve Program started in 1986 and is administered by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. Landowners receive a payment to voluntarily enroll land in a conservation easement.

"This acquisition is eligible for Reinvest in Minnesota funding match credits and therefore requires county board approval. As with all of our state forest land, this new addition will fall under the 'in-lieu-of-tax' county tax payment schedule," Lemberg said.

The parcel is surrounded on three sides by School Trust Lands, which are set aside to provide a continual source of funding for public education, according to the Minnesota DNR.

"There's a private 40 (acres) and then the county owns the north part by (Tamarack) Lake, so the majority of that area is already in public ownership," Lemberg said.

Current taxes related to the parcel are $1,236 and the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes would be $1,183 based on the current estimated market value, or a difference of $53, according to Lemberg.

"The potential for that to have a higher value in five years would be greatly increased if more development happened around it ... the old supply and demand where less supply will have more demand on the ones that are not developed," said Land Services Director Gary Griffin.

Commissioner Doug Houge questioned County Administrator Tim Houle as to whether the county has ever evaluated the long-term tax implications on the county of such acquisitions.

"Potlatch is in the process of divesting itself of a great deal of land within Crow Wing County, so we are seeing an increase in these kinds of transactions," Houle said of the Spokane, Wash.-based corporation.

Commissioner Paul Koering said, "I guess I just get a little bit wary of more—in essence this is private land—going to public land ... because the more land held by the government and not developed or owned by private individuals, the more pressure it puts on everybody else that's paying property taxes."

Koering reluctantly made the motion, however, to approve the DNR's proposed acquisition of the property, which was seconded by Commissioner Paul Thiede.

"At this point, I'm not going to support this because I think that further research should be done on some of these types of parcels. Going this route has, I think, several negative potential impacts to Crow Wing County residents or others as far as it being limited to use," Houge said.

Houle told Houge he made a request via email to the land services department to look into Potlatch's holdings in the county to see if there were any lands the corporation owns that may interest the county.

The motion to support the DNR's proposal to acquire the Potlatch land was ultimately defeated with commissioners Rosemary Franzen, Rachel Reabe Nystrom and Houge voting against it.

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