The 17-year-old Minnesota River Board is no more.
After a passionate and often heated meeting this week in Olivia, members from the remaining counties involved in the board voted to disband, frustrating those who'd hoped for a new basin-wide group that would have a steady source of funding to do river improvement projects.
"If we can't take care of our soil and water in Minnesota, we're going to pay for it somehow. And we'll pay a lot more than if we did something now," said Blue Earth County Commissioner Drew Campbell, who sits on the board's executive committee and fought for the creation of a new basin-wide effort.
But people like Kent Bosch, a farmer and drainage contractor near Montevideo, believe a new and larger group with taxing authority is unnecessary.
"I don't believe we need an umbrella organization looking over it all and taxing us," Bosch said.
The board was created by the Legislature and originally included 37 counties along the Minnesota River. Today just 22 remain as dues-paying members. The group, made up of county commissioners, saw dwindling funding from the state, and lawmakers last year cut funding completely.
Campbell said the group never grew into what many had hoped it would be — a group with a larger number of stakeholders, including paddlers, anglers and farmers and had a steady source of money to fund groups that are doing environmental work in the basin.
"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," Campbell said.
What Campbell and the executive board had hoped for was support for a plan that would have each of the 13 major watersheds in the basin involved with one elected official and one appointed member from each watershed on the board.
The key to its success would be the authority to raise money through fees or property taxes across the basin. Campbell said the plan would be to let each county decide how they wanted to raise the funds for their watershed with each watershed contributing based on its acreage.
Campbell said the money raised in each watershed would be largely used in that watershed with a basin-wide pot of money created to help give extra funding to important projects or those in small watersheds that couldn't generate enough funding on their own.
"It would go to groups that are already doing good work — boots-on-the-ground projects."
The basin-wide group envisioned would be similar to the Red River Basin Commission, which has a taxing authority.
But Bosch said there are plenty of groups successfully making improvements in the basin and more bureaucracy isn't needed.
"We've made tremendous progress in cleaning the water up with voluntary and cooperative efforts. We have a lot going on now that's working."
He said a number of local watershed groups, not just farmers, opposed launching a new basin-wide group.
"I believe the commissioners in that room that have been involved with the board wanted that board to continue, but I don't think the people they represent did," Bosch said.
The board members voted 11 to 6 to disband with one abstaining. The group did vote to send a recommendation to the Legislature, urging them to look at setting up a basin-wide group with the authority to raise funds, a move Bosch disagrees with.
Campbell said he hopes lawmakers take a serious look at setting up an authority in a river basin that covers one-quarter of the state's land.
"I hope lawmakers have a special committee to study whether the Minnesota River Basin would benefit from some structured way of revenue generation to get money to all the groups that deserve steady funding."