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St. Louis County Board holds hearing on wetland plan

A public hearing on the planned land exchange that could lead to the nation’s single largest wetland “bank” in the Sax-Zim Bog of St. Louis County had plenty of praise and no opposition Tuesday.

The St. Louis County Board of Commissioners held the hearing during its regular meeting Tuesday at the courthouse in Duluth to discuss swapping some tax-forfeited land with uplands.

The land exchange would grant county land to a private wetland mitigation company with plans to rehabilitate and protect some 22,000 acres of former swampland in the Sax-Zim Bog area near Meadowlands to its original, pre-settlement condition before ditches drained the fields for farming.

The Conservation Fund would buy the forested land from private parties, trade it to the county and DNR for the swampland, and then sell the ditched swampland to Ecosystem Investment Partners. That company would then restore the wetlands and recoup its costs by selling credits to developers, road builders, mining projects and other projects that have to replace wetlands lost in construction.

St. Louis County — and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources — now manages the swampland and would get thousands of acres of upland forest land.

Mark Weber and Jason Meyer, the director and an area manager of the county’s Land & Minerals Department, briefed the county board on the proposal Tuesday. Meyer said the deal would consolidate tax-forfeited land in the county, allowing for better use by the public, easier access for gravel or forestry operations.

County Administrator Kevin Gray said that more land would fall under taxation, but it is valued at a lesser rate than the current privately owned land the county would acquire. He called the difference in what the county collects now and after a deal “a wash.”

There was no action on the county’s part of the proposal Tuesday.

Included in the overall deal are some 6,000 acres of county-managed tax-forfeited land, along with 11,500 acres of state School Trust land. Ecosystem Investment Partners earlier this year bought 3,600 acres of private land in the Sax-Zim area.

The trust land is run by the Minnesota DNR and it approves the land switches.

Floodwood Mayor Jeff Kletscher spoke during the 35-minute hearing Tuesday. He said protecting the Sax-Zim area is critical to the annual bird fest held there each winter and said he supports any measures leading to the land bank.

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