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Board overrules Mahnomen commissioners to protect wetlands

ST. PAUL - A state board has approved giving the federal government the right to turn 76 acres in Mahnomen County into wetlands, even though county board members turned down the idea.

The state Land Exchange Board voted 2-1 Thursday to give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service an easement on the property owned by Matt Lahn and Kurt Albright. Mahnomen County commissioners had voted against the plan, fearing the county would lose property taxes.

However, Lahn and Albright told the land board - made up of Gov. Mark Dayton, Attorney General Lori Swanson and State Auditor Rebecca Otto - that they would continue to pay property taxes at current levels.

"Our main thing is to protect the wetlands," Lahn said.

Two county commissioners told board members they would like a letter from landowners promising not to request property tax cuts in the future. But Swanson and Otto were ready to approve the easement immediately.

Dayton said he was disappointed that county officials, landowners and the federal agency did not get together to agree on the letter, something he said could have taken 10 minutes.

It is rare that such a dispute rises to the level of the land board. Generally such easements, which the board must approve, are routine matters.