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Malone, commissioners ask DNR to put land back on tax rolls

Wadena Planning and Zoning Director Deana Malone found herself talking face-to-face with DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr last Wednesday.

The subject was land.

The DNR manages around six million acres for the state according to Landwehr.

"We've got swamplands, we have vast acres of peat land, land nobody else wants," Landwehr told the Wadena Board of Commissioners.

Yet the state also owns forest and mining lands, which generate timber and taconite. It adds up to revenue for the School Trust Fund.

"We provide 30 percent of all the timber that goes to market off state properties and a substantial part of the taconite that comes off the range comes off state leases."

Three years ago when the iron ore market was bullish the School Trust Fund realized a $60 million payday.

What Malone wants of Landwehr and the DNR is the sale of 2,000 acres of land in Wadena County so it can go back on the tax rolls.

"We understand the wheels of government can move slowly at some times, but we have been at this since 2015," Malone said.

The land was previously owned by the Potlatch Corporation, was generating income for the county until it fell into the hands of the state, which does not pay taxes on the land it holds.

Malone asked during Wednesday's meeting with Landwehr if there was anything the county could do to speed up the process.

"One thing that works well with the counties is to do an exchange," Landwehr said. "The counties have authority to sell tax-forfeited land, subject to DNR approval. It is sometimes easier for the county to sell land than it is for the state to sell land. It's fairly easy for us to do an exchange."

Northwest Region Director Rita Albrecht assured the county board the state is actively looking to have a robust spring and fall land sale next year.

"We will look at Wadena County and see if we can come up with some parcels here," Albrecht said.

Board Chairman Dave Hillukka said there are around 3,300 acres of public land in Wadena County.

"If it's in private ownership we can get substantially more taxes," Board Chairman Dave Hillukka told Landwehr and his party.

Board Member Bill Stearns brought up a request from one Wadena farmer who wanted to irrigate that went along with a question, "why does it take so long to get a permit?"

Landwehr said the DNR asked the Legislature two years ago to notify them whenever someone went to the Department of Health looking for an irrigation permit.

Trying to avoid a situation where a landowner might sink $150,000 into an irrigation project without being able to get a permit, the DNR reviewed the permit quickly and now sends out a green, yellow or red letter indicating, as street lights do - go, caution and stop.

The farmer had received a red letter after a four-month wait.

"We could respond to him tomorrow but it would be 'no,'" Landwehr said. "In order to get to 'yes' it might take a little longer."

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