The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture has rejected the 2018 appraisal of the federal lands within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness after much pressure from Lake, Cook, and St. Louis counties and federal legislators.
The U.S. Forest Service will reappraise the BWCAW, and while the new appraisal process is underway, the Forest Service will continue to make payments to the impacted counties based on the 2008 appraisal.
Every 10 years, the U.S. Forest Service appraises the BWCAW and pays each of the three counties one-quarter of 1% of the value of the land and sets the Thye-Blatnik Act-authorized payments in-lieu-of-taxes (PILT) for the next decade.
Every year, the Forest Service allocates PILT funds to the three counties comprising the BWCAW based on a formula established by the 1948 Thye-Blatnik Act. PILT funding compensates local governments for losses in tax revenues due to the presence of large areas of nontaxable federal lands.
In June, the Forest Service presented the counties with the 2018 appraisal, which included a 63% reduction in value for the Boundary Waters as a whole.
The new appraisal valued an acre of BWCAW land at roughly $500. This would reduce PILT payments drastically in each county, though most significantly in Lake County.
Previously, Lake County received approximately $2.6 million annually. With the reduction, Lake County is set to receive a $1.3 million annually. The county would have to raise its property tax levy by 12% to make up the lost revenue. County commissioners approved a 6% levy increase Tuesday, Dec. 17, to offset the expected loss.
Lake County, along with St. Louis and Cook counties, made appeals to the Department of Agriculture and Forest Service regarding the decrease in the appraisal, met with the appraisers in September and continued to make inquiries and requests for aid to local federal representatives.
On Friday, Dec. 20, U.S. senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber announced the U.S. Forest Service will reappraise the BWCAW.
"Lake County is pleased to hear that the Secretary of Agriculture has rejected the 2018 appraisal of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the counties will be kept whole with our PILT payments during the new appraisal process," Lake County Commissioner Rich Sve said in a news release. "The Thye-Blatnik payments are a vital source of revenue for Lake County.
"Our congressman Pete Stauber, and senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, were instrumental in communicating our concerns to the USDA. Without their persistence, our payments would have been reduced by 53%. I would like to also thank the Lake County staff, especially the County Assessor’s Office, for their diligent work on this issue outlining what we believe were omissions in the initial appraisal.”
St. Louis County Board Chair Patrick Boyle released a similar statement praising the legislators.
"This decision allows for a more thoughtful approach and time to revisit an appraisal process that is so critical to future federal funding for our region," he said.
Cook County Commissioners Ginny Storlie, Myron Bursheim, Bobby Deschampe, David Mills and Heidi Doo-Kirk said in a joint statement: “The Cook County Board of Commissioners is thankful to Congressman Pete Stauber and senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith for their work to secure this reappraisal as these funds support critical services in Cook County.”