Of the 1.1 million acres in Aitkin County, about 50% of those acres are wetlands.
Most people give little thought towetlands, however, they are a critical part of the natural environment. They protect shores from wave action, reduce the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve water quality. They provide habitat for animals and plants and contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else.
Because half of the land in Aitkin County includes wetlands, most projects people do on their property are close to wetlands, according to Steve Hughes, district manager of the Aitkin County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).
While the majority of people building garages, driveways or improving lakeshore access are aware a permit is needed, there are still a few who plow through a project and pay a price after the fact.
“It’s expensive to restore something that’s in violation,” said Hughes. “We would rather work with people up front instead of issuing cease and desist or restoration orders. My goal is to find people a way to enjoy their property legally.”
The Minnesota DNR lists the following as wetlands: bogs, marshes, shallow open water, swamps, wet meadows, and seasonally flooded wetlands.
The state’s Wetlands Conservation Act of 1991 was adopted by Aitkin County in January 1992. A key component was the development of restored or created wetlands as replacement for wetlands that are drained or filled.
Hughes wants people to know a permit is required whenever wetland impacts are involved.
Permitting for projects involving wetlands is a joint effort of the SWCD and Aitkin County Planning and Zoning. The permits must be obtained at the Planning and Zoning office, with some of the requests reviewed by a technical evaluation panel composed of Hughes and representatives from Aitkin County and the Board of Water and Soil Resources.
A wetland is determined by the vegetation, depth to the water table and the soils in the project area.
“Some projects are exempt,” said Hughes. “It depends on how close the project is to a lake or river and the type of wetland involved. State law requires avoiding the wetland impact but if we can’t, work to minimize the impact.”
Hughes encourages people with projects to go to the Aitkin County website, www.co.aitkin.mn.us then the Planning and Zoning department to view the wetlands ordinance. They also may call Hughes at 218-927-7284 or Planning and Zoning at 218-927-7342.
All is not lost, however. Aitkin County is listed by the state as having more than 80% of its original wetlands still intact.
“We want to keep the water quality good,” said Hughes, “and protect our resources so we can all enjoy them.”
Hughes urges landowners to please check with Aitkin County to see if permits are needed before any work is started.
As always, stopping the spread of invasive species to lakes and rivers, protects habitat for native species. Overall lake and river health is better without invasive species. Healthy lakes and rivers benefit fish, wildlife and people. Remember, “Clean, Drain, Dry and Dispose.”