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FIRST RUN ONLY Pawlenty, Gutknecht resolve CREP dispute

By Matthew Stolle

mstolle@postbulletin.com

(Editor's note: A version of this story appeared in some editions Monday.)

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht announced a breakthrough agreement Monday on a plan to set aside tens of thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive agriculture land to prevent run-off into streams and rivers.

For months, the issue has been bogged down over whether land in the program should be set aside permanently, as the governor and environmentalists have proposed, or in temporary easements, as Gutknecht and farmers have supported.

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As part of the agreement, the state will modify its application for the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to boost the number of acres set aside from 100,000 acres to 120,000 acres.

The revised plan also calls for:

24,000 acres of permanent easements for wetlands restoration.

5,000 acres of permanent easements for flood mitigation.

The remaining 91,000 acres would be set aside for up to 45 years.

Gutknecht said he still has concerns about the constitutionality of permanent easements, but he called the compromise a "very good agreement."

The agreement announced Monday is similar to one that Rep. Bill Kuisle proposed earlier in the session during a House environmental committee meeting.

CREP is a voluntary federal-state-local program that works with farmers and ranchers to set aside marginal agricultural lands along waterways to enhance wildlife habitats, improve water quality, reduce erosion and sedimentation, and reduce the effects of recurrent flooding.

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Pawlenty said the one key in reaching an agreement was the need to get something done this year. CREP is funded with 80 percent of federal money and 20 percent of state money. The governor has asked the Legislature for $23 million in this year's bonding bill as the first installment from the state and will seek another $23 million in the 2006 bonding bill. The federal share comes to $200 million.

Officials said that an environmental impact study will have to be conducted within the next 60 to 120 days and that land could be signed up for the program sometime after that.

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