Anderson: How are we doing with those Legacy dollars?

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 6, 2012 - 6:46 AM

Citizens and conservation leaders gathered to hear - and often cheer - what Legacy funds are achieving.

Thursday in St. Paul, on their own dime and time, upward of 300 people from throughout the state gathered in a hotel ballroom to check up on their land, water and money. Valuing one perhaps not over another, they sought reassurance that environmental funds flowing from passage of the Legacy Act in 2008 are indeed achieving what they were intended to achieve, which is a better Minnesota.

Topics discussed included parks and trails, water -- a lot about water -- and fish and wildlife.

The latter were not so specifically detailed as to include, say, the welfare of walleyes or ducks, deer or trout. Instead, the fish and wildlife portion of Thursday's gathering featured key members and staff of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, who outlined in straightforward fashion the method by which they recommend about $200 million in annual spending to benefit these and other game and non-game species.

At meetings of this kind, typically attended by a who's-who of Minnesota conservation leaders, as well as by Joe and Jane Concerned Citizens, you want really to be able to root for the home team.

When a panel of parks and trails folks, for example, takes the podium to discuss benchmarks they've achieved with taxpayers' dollars, the inclination is to swell with pride even in the absence of understanding exactly what's going on.

Which most everyone did on Thursday: swell with pride, even in the absence, it seemed, of understanding exactly what's going on with parks and trails.

Murkiness also reared its head at times Thursday when the issue was "water policy,'' a subject often rife with acronyms like TMDLs. Thank goodness, then, that former state senator and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Gene Merriam sliced neatly through the Power Point-laden hokum with important questions such as, given what we're doing, is the state's water going to be cleaner in 20 years due to the millions in Legacy dollars being poured into that effort -- or not?

Better water

Yet pride truly was warranted when water was discussed at a more granular level by soil and water specialists from Renville County, Stearns County, Mower County and elsewhere. Each laid out in significant detail hands-on work in their locales that has reduced feed-lot runoff, cut stream-bank erosion and provided wildlife habitat.

In that effort, Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District technician Tom Kalahar noted that not everything in the Minnesota River valley is as environmentally kosher as he and others would like.

Nevertheless, the countryside surrounding that river is in far better shape than it was a decade ago, Kalahar stressed, with still more improvements in the offing, thanks in large part to the Legacy Act.

Fruitful discussion

Saving the best for last, at day's end, Lessard-Sams Council executive director Bill Becker was joined on the stage by citizen council member Jane Kingston from northeast Minnesota, and legislative members Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, and Rep. Denny McNamara, R-South St. Paul.

Moderated by Sportsmen for Change executive director Garry Leaf, a discussion began with Becker outlining the principles by which the council makes funding recommendations to benefit game, fish and wildlife.

As he did, and as Kingston, Ingebrigtsen, and McNamara joined in, rooting for the home teamed seemed warranted again.

It wasn't that these three said anything necessarily prophetic or even new. Instead, the process by which they and the full 12-member council operate in their evaluation and recommendation to the Legislature of habitat projects seemed much clearer by comparison, than, say, the process by which the aforementioned water "policy'' dollars are allocated.

Given that, a case could be made that legislative-citizen councils similar to Lessard-Sams should be established for each of the money pots filled with Legacy money, including not only parks and trails, but water and also arts and culture.

Or perhaps programs funded in those areas are so much different than the year-to-year habitat projects that Lessard-Sams recommends that such councils wouldn't work.

Either way, you really want to be able to root for the home team -- and cheering is easier when it's evident you're backing a winner.

dennis anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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