We've heard a lot of complaining about MnDOT's proposed plan to require permits of farmers and other rural landowners who routinely mow ditches along roads next to their land. Some of the regulations mentioned seemed silly (like required helmets).
Typical of this vein? This paragraph in the January 21, 2017 Marshall Independent article Local legislators focused on the issues in 2017 session:
Audience members also spoke up to ask Dahms and Swedzinski to repeal rules from the Minnesota Department of Transportation on mowing and baling hay in the right of way of roads. Swedzinski said the rules dictate when and how landowners can mow on the roadside, and require a permit to do so. Swedzinski has introduced a bill, H.F. 124, that would prohibit road authorities from requiring permits for mowing in the public right of way, or restrict mowing or haying.
But a recent Session Daily article, MnDOT, farmers on different sides of disagreement over ditch mowing, suggests that there's another element to the story: state ownership of the right of way:
Sponsored by Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent), HF124 would prohibit MnDOT from establishing a permit process or other requirements on those who perform mowing or haying within a road’s right-of-way, and would limit when the road authority could mow an entire right-of-way.
“This bill turns back some of the onerous requests of the department,” Swedzinski said.
The House Transportation and Regional Governance Policy Committee approved the bill, as amended, and referred it to the House Agriculture Policy Committee. A companion, SF218, sponsored by Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls), has been referred to the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.
MnDOT disagrees with potential limits on the agency’s ability to manage land it owns adjacent to highways, said Scott Peterson, the department’s director of government affairs.
He told the committee that farmers who mow and hay in MnDOT rights-of-way for commercial purposes are no different than someone digging plants out of the ground at a state park and then selling them for economic gain. Since MnDOT has purchased the right-of-way, the department has a right to manage and protect its investments, he said.
The department, he said, has a “responsibility to manage [its rights-of-way] to maximum benefit for the people of Minnesota.”
Environmental advocates who testified before the committee argued that growth in highway rights-of-way isn’t always noxious weeds that need to be controlled, but can be important habitat for wildlife and struggling pollinator populations.
So some farmers want to be able to continue to mow and hay on public land, then use or sell that harvest from the trunk highway roadsides if it's beside their property (MnDOT doesn't own or control the right-of-ways along country and township roads, so the permit rules don't apply there).
But heaven forbid that any inch of their property beside a public ditch or water be required to be put into a vegetative buffer, even if they can mow and hay that strip. It's their property, after all, and some argue they should be able to do what they wish with their property, whatever the consequences might be to those downstream.
What's theirs is theirs--but in the case of public right of ways, what's ours is theirs as well. Ok then.
Photo: Like the leader of CATS in Zero Wing who spawned the popular meme, some farmers would have us believe the ditches along public trunk highways (and the vegetation growing in them) belong to them, not MnDOT, which owns the right-of-way.
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