Moe introduces bills dealing with events center, forestry

ST. PAUL - Two bills to further Bemidji's legislative agenda for a regional events center and forestry were introduced Monday by Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji.

ST. PAUL - Two bills to further Bemidji's legislative agenda for a regional events center and forestry were introduced Monday by Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji.

Bemidjians were at the State Capitol on Tuesday to lobby for half-dozen issues, including legislative authority to extend the city of Bemidji's half-cent sales tax for regional events center construction once it has raised $9.8 million for parks and trails improvements in the city.

The 90-strong delegation also asked for measures to improve the declining timber industry, such as adding more state staff in the woods to prepare timber sales and to allow heavier trucks with more axles on roads to lower timber transportation costs.

Moe on Monday introduced the bill to allow the sales tax extension, and also legislation to calling for no net loss of public forestland.

The former would extend the city's half-cent sales and use tax, as approved by Bemidji voters on Nov. 7, when its parks and trails obligation is done. The extension would provide up to $50 million to "acquire property, paying demolition and construction expenses, improving associated infrastructure and securing and paying debt service on bonds or other obligations issued to finance the regional events center project."


The bill was referred to the House Local Government and Metropolitan Affairs Committee, with action this session.

Plans call for seeking state bonding in 2008 to pay for 40 percent of the center, with the sales tax paying for the remainder.

There have been some rumblings among the new DFL majority in the House that may cast a dim view on local option sales taxes, but Moe said Bemidji's should fare well as it is an extension to an existing tax and is voter approved.

"In general, there are some people in the Legislature that have concerns about local option sales taxes," Moe said in an interview after he addressed the Bemidji delegation in the State Capitol's Great Hall. "That being said, I think we stand a really good chance. And having all the Bemidji people here today making the case is really going to help us to convince many of the people who are on the fence."

Moe said he's already briefed chairmen of taxes committees -- Property Tax Division Chairman Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, and Taxes Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington -- about Bemidji's needs.

"They seem relatively supportive," Moe said, "but we need to build the support here today. ... It helps that we already have it in existence, and it was critical that we passed it in a referendum. The state has already contributed resources to this project, with $3 million."

Moe noted that House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, in her remarks to the group, said the House, Senate and Gov. Tim Pawlenty are supportive of a Bemidji regional events center, with a bonding request to come next year.

"Everything's lining up -- we just have to continue to chalk each item off the list as we go forward," he said.


The second bill would require "to the greatest extent possible, the (Department of Natural Resources) commissioner's land management decisions and actions may not result in any net loss of forest acreage available for timber production that exists on July 1, 2007."

The Legislature is to get a report each year detailing the acreage managed by the DNR that was closed to timber production during the previous year and reasons for the closure, and DNR-managed acreage that was opened to timber production to compensate for the acreage that was closed the previous year.

"They can't take any land out of timber rotation or close it off to hunting without a forest planting increase to match that," Moe said. "They also have to come back to the Legislature with an assessment of how much aggregate forest land there is in the state of Minnesota and a plan to keep from losing any of it."

The bill says the DNR will exercise its authority to manage lands "in a manner to support, promote and enhance recreational hunting opportunities to the extent authorized by law." It also calls for a report detailing how much recreational hunting land has been lost the previous year and the reasons, plus any land opened to compensate for previously closed lands.

"The big factor here is 300,000 acres of industrial forest land in the northeast and other tracts that are getting nitpicked away," Moe said of timber companies selling former forest tracts into smaller developments often off limits to hunters or loggers. "We have to draw a line in the sand, and this is an effort to do that."

The bill has favor with all northern lawmakers, Moe said, and Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, will carry it in the Senate.

The effort dovetails with a bill by Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, that would require a local economic impact statement whenever forestland under the DNR's management is withdrawn from timber harvesting.

"I think they are very compatible," Moe said. "If a local unit of government or the state of Minnesota wants to remove land from timber sale ... they actually have to complete an economic impact statement. It's two different strategies that are compatible to protect the forestlands in northern Minnesota."


Moe's bill was referred to the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

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