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Clean water bill 'murky'

ST. PAUL - Groups representing Greater Minnesota told lawmakers Tuesday that a clean water bill before the Legislature contains murky details.

Sponsored by Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount, the Clean Water Legacy Act would identify polluted surface waters and develop cleanup plans. It would be administered through the state's Pollution Control Agency.

Ozment said if the state doesn't start following long-ignored federal clean water guidelines, it could face sanctions. "Instead of spending money on lawyers, we want to actually spend money on cleaning up Minnesota's waters."

The plan allows the state agency or a qualified third-party entity -- like a local watershed district or environmental group -- to determine the pollution limit for a lake, river or stream.

That bothers the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Coalition attorney Tim Flaherty, said his organization supports the bill in concept but doesn't want independent groups determining which waters need cleanup.

"This raises a lot of concern for us," Flaherty told the House Governmental Operations and Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday. "We don't think anybody should have that upper hand."

Ozment said the agency would still approve any third-party plan, but the cities coalition said language in the bill contradicts that.

Another outstate group likes the third-party approach and is concerned the state government might meddle too much in local projects.

Ray Bohn of the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts told the committee that allowing local residents to have a hand in cleanup efforts is a critical part of the bill.

"They do not want the MPCA telling them what to do in their watershed," Bohn said.

Citing a successful stream cleanup project in his district, Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, also said he doesn't want local groups excluded from water cleanup.

Ozment said his bill recognizes that importance and attempts to "keep this at the grass-roots level."

Annalee Garletz of the Association of Minnesota Counties told lawmakers that her group likes the bill's intentions, but objects to how it's paid for.

Lawmakers also have questioned the funding source. Under the proposal, residents and businesses with public or private sewers including septic tanks would be assessed annual fees of $36 and $120 to $600, respectively.

Ozment said he wants lawmakers to find common ground on the policy before trying to agree on a way to pay for it.

The House governmental operations committee is expected to vote on the proposal today. The bill, which includes a long bipartisan list of co-sponsors, already passed the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Similar legislation is moving through the Senate.

Wente is a reporter for the Red Wing (Minn.) Republican-Eagle, a Forum Communications newspaper