Subway housing projects win record share of legacy amendment dollars
Conservation projects in the metropolitan area are set to receive more Lessard-Sams grants than ever before as part of this year’s Outdoor Heritage Fund bill in the Legislative Assembly.
As developed by a nonpartisan committee of eight citizens and four lawmakers, the bill’s recommendations direct 18% of overall funding to projects that protect and improve natural resources in the Twin Cities. The scale of the Legacy Amendment fund is also unprecedented. Now at $159 million, the overall dedicated sales tax revenue pot is 24% higher than the previous high of $128 million approved last year.
“Minnesota has an exceptional record of doing all it can to help preserve our outdoor heritage,” Rep. Rob Ecklund, D-International Falls, said earlier this month as he defended the Lessard-Sams bill in a key House committee. is a good bill to protect and preserve our environment.”
In the town of Rogers, approval of the bill would provide $1 million for the purchase and preservation of Stieg Woods, a rare 20-acre tract of old-growth hardwood forest that would otherwise be lost to development. In St. Paul, portions of Phalen Creek would be “lit by day” by the excavation of ancient underground channels. Various other projects would permanently expand or improve wildlife corridors along the Mississippi, St. Croix and Minnesota rivers. projects could receive more than $27 million.
For observers close to the annual Lessard-Sams slate of projects, the distribution of funds is notable because of past battles between urban interests and dominant outlying constituencies outside of Minnesota. The dedicated fund gets most of its money from the Twin Cities economy based on a fractional sales tax approved by voters in 2008. But most priorities for game, fish and Wild animals rest in northern, prairie regions, transition zones, and southeastern Minnesota. Zone without drift.
Scott Rall, a former member of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, said urban-rural tensions over the bill have eased significantly since the first Lessard-Sams appropriation was approved by the Legislative Assembly in 2009. At the time, metro lawmakers needed to be reminded that the politics of geography had nothing to do with where dollars would be spent.
“I don’t see the subway versus outstate issue as an ongoing debate, but it will certainly be an undercurrent in this bill forever,” said Rall, who served on the council for six years.
He said the ultimate guideline for him in assessing applications was whether the proposed project would lead to increased populations of game, fish and wildlife.
“Geography shouldn’t be the driving force,” he said. “The engine is game, fish and wildlife.”
But to this day, the administrators of Lessard-Sams still categorize expenses according to five ecological components. The “metropolitan urbanization area” received only 2.9% of the annual distribution. The previous peak was 17.3%, received in 2010.
Rall said the council has made adjustments over the years to ensure Metro interests get “a bite of the apple” even when mainstream project proposals for the urban area are scarce. The Conservation Partners Legacy (CPL) Small Grants Program sets aside a portion of Lessard-Sams funds each year for distribution by the Department of Natural Resources in the metropolitan area and in cities such as St. Cloud, Rochester and Duluth.
This year’s CPL portion of the Lessard-Sams bill would provide at least $2.5 million for smaller conservation projects in the seven-county area. These grants will be up to $500,000.
Joe Pavelko, deputy director of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, said council members are not bound by any geographic requirements when it comes to ranking applications for high-priority projects. For 2022, the council chose 42 projects to recommend to the Legislative Assembly. The selection process began with over $314 million in applications.
“It has to do with the priorities of board members,” Pavelko said.
Due to the expected growth in the overall state budget, the Lessard-Sams bill could gain momentum as it makes its way through the Legislative Assembly. Pavelko said any additional dollars would likely be spread evenly across the 42 projects.
For the metropolitan area, the Stieg Woods project in Rogers has a unique appeal. The remnant forest of sugar maple, basswood, oak and bitter hickory is part of a farm owned by Denny and Jan Stieg, whose family has lived on the property for over 100 years. small invasive species and provides the city with a bookend at Henry’s Woods, a permanently preserved 45-acre old-growth forest north of I-94.
“I’m just amazed every time I walk through these woods,” Parks and Recreation Director Michael Bauer said.
He said the Stieg plot will be walkable and open to wild plant pickers and other outdoor enthusiasts. It provides special hunts in the woods and educational opportunities.
The largest subway projects covered by the bill are in Dakota County, Washington County and elsewhere along the Mississippi, St. Croix and Minnesota rivers.