Guest opinion: Setting the record straight on school trust lands
Recently, questions have been raised in a letter to the editor by Ms. Flor about a bill in the Legislature dealing with school trust lands.
That bill is H.F. 1233/S.F. 1028, "an act relating to natural resources; appropriating money to facilitate sale of school trust lands in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area; extending availability of an appropriation; amending law 2016 chapter 189, article 3, section 6."
The bill provides funding to pay for the significant administrative expenses required to facilitate completing a combination of land exchanges and buy-outs by the federal government of approximately 83,000 acres of Minnesota school trust lands that have remained landlocked within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness since 1978.
Upon achieving statehood, school trust lands were set aside for the purpose of funding Minnesota's public schools. The lands are held in trust by the state of Minnesota for our children's education. Minnesota's Constitution and current state law requires those lands to be managed specifically to produce revenue to fund K-12 public schools throughout Minnesota.
For almost 50 years those trust lands because of federal restrictions have not been producing revenue for our school districts, as Minnesota's Constitution requires.
After years of consultation with the U.S. Forest Service which included significant public input Minnesota and the Forest Service are working on exchanging some of the school trust lands for other Forest Service lands outside the BWCA. The federal government would purchase the remaining school trust lands currently trapped inside the BWCA; that is unacceptable.
The revenue from the non-BWCA school trust lands contribute on average about $17 million per year to the permanent school trust fund. Those revenues are generated from mineral leases, including iron ore/taconite, nonferrous minerals, industrial minerals, gravel, timber sales, and state forest campground fees. The investment income produced by the trust fund is distributed annually to Minnesota's public school districts.
Please let me be clear, school trust lands belong to the children of Minnesota. They were set aside in 1858 for the specific purpose of producing revenue for the Permanent School Trust Fund. The land exchange and buy-out process H.F. 1233/S.F. 1028 would fund is about the school trust lands trapped in the BWCA. This legislation is not part of a state-federal land exchange that is incidental to the Polymet mining project.
It is disappointing to see unfounded anti-mining rhetoric and misinformation being directed toward members of the Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission, School Trust Lands Director Aaron Vande Linde and Gov. Mark Dayton, all of whom are working hard to fulfill their constitutional duty as trustees on behalf of Minnesota's school children.
Note: Lueck is the chief author of H.F. 1233 and serves as chairman of the 12-member Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission. For more information on school trust lands visit: www.lcc.leg.mn/lpsfc/ and " target="_blank">www.dnr.state.mn.us/aboutdnr/school_lands/index.html.