Anoka County should allow sale

Private landowners should be able to sell their land to the DNR.

If the owners of some of the most outstanding ecological land in the metro area are looking to sell it, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is willing to buy and preserve it, everybody wins, right?

Wrong, if you ask Anoka County.

Earlier this month, the Anoka County Board backed up the decision of the city of Columbus to forbid the sale of 160 acres, including 93 acres of wetlands next to the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area to the DNR. Their reasoning is simple. If this land is sold to the state, the $3,000 a year the city currently receives in taxes on the property would disappear, and future revenue in taxes if homes were built on the parcel would never happen.

While this might not be an enviable situation for a small city, we believe the landowners should have the right to sell their property to whomever they choose, including the DNR, and the city and county are out of line in disallowing the sale.

According to the owners of the land, they’ve been trying to sell the property for years, but have found no takers because only about 15 acres of land is suitable for development, and the parts that are, are located in the most remote stretches of the land. Unable to find any buyers, the owners turned to the state to buy the pristine lands.

But with the veto of Columbus and Anoka County – an ability granted to localities under state statute that allows this refusal if the locality has “valid reasons” – the city and county are basically tying the hands of these owners to do anything but hold onto the land themselves.

Equally important, the land is rated as having “outstanding biological diversity,” a classification that only 4 percent of all land in the metro meets, according to the Star Tribune.

The state has made some remarkable progress this year in regards to environmental protection and energy self-sufficiency, but Anoka County shouldn’t discourage conservation by banning the land sale in this shortsighted manner.