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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Will Bemidji become ‘first polluted city on the Mississippi?’

In the 1970s the Federal Wild and Scenic River Act had proposed that the upper eight counties on the Mississippi Headwaters were eligible for designation which would have set aside this national treasure within the protective status of this ‘act.’ Local politicians, developers and extractive industry opposed this and promised that if kept under local control, similar protections would be enforced by local officials. I would argue that it hasn’t.

The result was the creation of the Mississippi Headwaters Board (MHB). Though staff people of the MHB may have their hearts in the right place, the reality is that the MHB is made up of one county commissioner from each of the upper eight counties who have allowed the great river to take second place to commerce and development. Several well-documented studies have shown that development of lake shoreline is directly correlated to water degradation.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has given Lake Irving the worst rating an “impaired” waters can have and Lake Bemidji is on the brink of becoming impaired.

I have spent much of my life canoeing the "headwaters" and have seen too much of the shoreline gobbled up by development. It is this excessive development that is impacting water quality along with other environmental values we cherish.

There are now efforts within the Beltrami County Board to sell county administered lands (CAL). I understand the need for tax dollars to operate county budgets, but financing is in place to compensate for the loss of taxable lands in the form of "payment in lieu of taxes" (PILT) and proceeds from timber sales. The public land our state has is the goose that lays the golden egg. Our public forested lands protect watersheds, offer recreational opportunities for the public to hunt, fish and enjoy what we all (should) continue to own in perpetuity.

The economic foundation of northern Minnesota is in our public lands. People come here for our clean waters and pristine forests -- not for excessive development and pollution of our waterways and forests. These public lands are our “commons.”  They should not be used as a way for developers to exploit and pave the way for the gentrification of northern Minnesota and allow a small few to negatively impact what belongs to us all. Bemidji is known as “First City on the Mississippi.” Will it become the first Polluted City on the Mississippi?

Barry W. Babcock

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