The Free Press, Mankato, MN


December 20, 2013

Our View: Don't give up on river cleanup

Why it matters: Shutdown of the Minnesota River Board threatens river cleanup efforts.

The Minnesota River Board may have collapsed under the weight of its own bureaucracy, but its demise shouldn’t be a reason for elected leaders or citizens to begin ignoring the significant environmental threats to the state’s namesake river.

In fact, now is the time for a renewed emphasis on river cleanup. Public energy needs a new spark. It’s up to citizens, the Minnesota Legislature, federal environmental officials and the agriculture community to pick up the charge of the river’s environmental health.

The River Board seems to have disintegrated for a number of reasons after a 17-year run. The board over the years lost representation from about 40 percent of the counties in the basin, going from representation of 37 at the beginning to 22 counties at the end.

The board attempted to encourage expanding the list of stakeholders from farmers to canoeists but apparently to no avail. “It wasn’t supposed to be a bunch of commissioners sitting around saying we don’t want to do much, which was the flavor of a lot of the commissioners,” said Blue Earth County Commissioner Drew Campbell, who was on the River Board executive committee.

Campbell makes a good point. Trying to get that many county commissioners to come to consensus on anything would be akin to herding cats in a dog pound. It’s tough enough for even seven county commissioners to come to agreement at times, much less 37.

The interests varied from county to county. More urban counties of the basin had much different interests than the rural, agricultural counties.

The makeup of the original basin board may have been a mistake from the beginning, given the diverse interests of those counties.

While building stakeholder coalitions can be a laudable goal, if it takes 17 years of trying without success, one has to question the model. It appears we are back to the drawing board.

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