Woodbury calls watershed bills politicalWoodbury City Council members spoke out against legislation by Rep. Denny McNamara and Sen. Katie Sieben, who represent parts of south Washington County, that was written specifically to repeal a Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources decision on area watershed management and boundaries.
Woodbury leaders sharply criticized a proposed state law that would undo a controversial local watershed decision and called the legislative effort political interference.
Woodbury City Council members spoke out against bills by Rep. Denny McNamara and Sen. Katie Sieben, who represent parts of south Washington County, that were written specifically to repeal a Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources decision on area watershed management and boundaries.
Woodbury supported the board's decision. It was opposed by the city of Cottage Grove, Sieben's hometown. McNamara represents areas negatively affected by the decision.
"I don't quite understand why a state senator and a state representative think that this is their issue," Woodbury City Council member Paul Rebholz said.
The council on Wednesday voted 5-0 for a resolution opposing the bills.
Woodbury staff said they learned of the legislation last week, a day ahead of the first mediated meeting of Woodbury and Cottage Grove officials, as well as representatives from other local government entities, meant to look for a compromise on watershed issues.
Mediation was proposed after Woodbury and Cottage Grove filed separate and competing legal challenges with the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Oral arguments in Woodbury's appeal were presented this morning.
"We just feel that that is bad public policy and while we have good-faith mediation going on, that does not enhance the process," Woodbury City Administrator Clint Gridley said of the bills.
"This is quite unique," added Woodbury City Attorney Mark Vierling, responding to questions from council members about the precedent for such legislation. "It's questionable at best, but, yes, very unusual."
The Board of Water and Soil Resources in June 2009 granted a petition supported by Cottage Grove, Denmark Township and Washington County to dissolve the Lower St. Croix Water Management Organization and draw new, larger boundaries for the South Washington and Valley Branch watershed districts.
Woodbury objected to that process and to how the boundaries were drawn.
In December, the Board of Water and Soil Resources granted a citizen petition that challenged the board's June ruling. The board's December decision was viewed by Cottage Grove and Denmark Township officials as a reversal because while it kept the Lower St. Croix Water Management Organization dissolved, it drew new boundaries for the two affected watershed districts.
Woodbury officials liked the new boundaries. Cottage Grove officials did not.
The McNamara and Sieben legislation would nullify the December ruling. Watershed boundaries would revert to those established in the earlier decision that favored Cottage Grove.
McNamara, R-Hastings, said he wants the mediation process to be successful. If it is not, then the state board's initial decision should be honored, he said.
McNamara said he was disappointed that the state board got involved in a local dispute by reversing its original boundary decision on the basis of a Woodbury resident’s citizen petition.
“(Woodbury) stepped on us,” McNamara said. “I’m sorry, the water flows from Woodbury to us … when Woodbury didn’t get its way, it went this other route. I just didn’t feel it looked like a fair process.”
Woodbury Mayor Bill Hargis said there is an established process for handling water issues, and now the city is attempting to negotiate a deal in good faith.
"To me it makes the example that some people think this is a political issue. We think it's a scientific issue," he said.
Hargis added: "I think they have enough problems (in St. Paul) that they ought to work on those and everything else will fall into place."
The bills, introduced earlier this month, have not received committee hearings yet. Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, has worked on issues with Sieben but said she told her colleague that she will fight against the legislation if it starts moving through the Legislature.
Woodbury has asked Cottage Grove and Washington County to support the resolution, but that appears unlikely.
Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey said he did not know the bills had been introduced when the cities participated last week in the first of what is expected to be two or three mediation sessions. Bailey said "the timing kind of stinks," but said he believes the groups can still go through the mediation process.
However, Bailey added, Cottage Grove will not back Woodbury's resolution opposing the legislation.
"No, not going to happen," he said.
If mediation is successful, Bailey said, he would ask lawmakers to remove a portion of the bill that would make the new restrictions retroactive to Jan. 1, 2009, but he wants the bill to advance because the state board's process was flawed and needs reform.
Washington County Administrator Jim Schug said he was told by McNamara that the legislator supports the mediation process. Schug said based on his conversation with McNamara, he will not ask county commissioners to take a position on Woodbury's resolution at this time.
Bulletin staff Patricia Drey Busse and Jon Avise contributed to this story.