ROSEAU, Minn. (March 1, 2022) — Since its formation in the summer of 2020, the Roseau County Landowners Coalition has been talking to farmers who will lose productive farmland to a development project from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Roseau River Watershed District (RRWD). Today, the coalition has released a comprehensive map outlining how farmers throughout the Roseau Lake basin feel about the project.
“The results of this survey speak for themselves,” Institute for Justice (IJ) Assistant Director of Activism Chad Reese said. “No amount of whitewashing and evasion from St. Paul bureaucrats can hide the devastation this project would do to Roseau farmers. No one we received an answer from who owns land touching the river voiced support for the project. Farmers who have worked the land for decades know best the damage this project would wreak.”
In the case of Norman Kveen, his family’s experience working Roseau’s land goes beyond decades. His family has been farming Roseau’s fertile land for over 130 years. Norman has spent his life making his farm profitable to support his family, but the project as currently designed would crush hopes of profitability.
“It’s not all about the money,” Norman said. “When I look at the land out there that my uncles and my dad farmed, it just brings back those kinds of memories. The land I’d like to leave it to my boys. I’d never thought that at my age I’d have to fight for what I already own. They’re trying to destroy it.”
The given justification for the project has constantly changed—from a wetland habitat for ducks, to an attempt at flood reduction for areas outside Roseau, to a project for recreational activities. But for whatever reason the state uses to move the project forward, it would mean one thing for Roseau landowners: they would lose the farmland that they worked so hard to own and would no longer be able to pass it down to their children.
Through postcard mailings, phone calls and individual conversations, the coalition counted 207 people affected by the project, and received responses from 53 people on behalf of their families and others. Of those 53 responses, 46 oppose (86.79%), four support (7.55%), and three are unsure (5.66%). None of the respondents in support of the project have land directly touching the river inside the project footprint.
Among those affected by the project, which encompasses landowners who might have family members also living on the land, the survey found that more than 75% of the people who live, farm, hunt or otherwise depend on land inside the project footprint oppose the project. Specifically, the count found 157 opposed to the project (75.9%), six in support of the project (2.9%) and five unsure about the project (2.4%). Another 39 individuals did not respond to the survey (18.8%).
Mitch Magnusson grew up on his Roseau farm and has worked his own land since the 1980s, and his great-grandfather put down roots there in 1895 He expressed frustration with how the stakes of the project are unclear to the uninitiated.
“If the inlet numbers going into the DNR basin are too high, it’s going to stop all the drainage to the south of the project,” he said. “That means that all of those acres to the south that they originally wanted to put water easements on are going to flood. If you don’t know how the lakes worked in the past, you don’t really know how you’re negatively affecting it.”
Mitch’s son Matthew Magnusson, along with two partners, farms wheat, soybean, sunflowers and more on Roseau’s fertile land.
“What’s concerning with a lot of this is, the Roseau River Watershed District Board seems to be prioritizing the DNR’s wants more than the concerns of the local farmers and the residents in the area. To me, that’s very disappointing to see,” Matthew said. “The board in general, I think, is sick of hearing our same concerns without addressing them. Their engineer said it’s time to put the pencils down and move forward with the project.”
Porter Enstrom, a Maffucci Fellow at IJ, said the RRWD has ignored landowner opposition to the Roseau Lake Project for years. “Now we have a picture of opposition that can no longer be denied. Over 79% of those landowners shown on the map oppose the project. After speaking to residents, I am more confident than ever that Roseau does not want this project to move forward.”
The Roseau County Landowners Coalition hopes that the strength of the opposition shows the board that it’s not too late to address concerns the best way possible: to abandon the Roseau Lake Project and save multigenerational family farms from needless destruction.
The group has created a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/StopRoseauFarmsLandgrab/, and a website, http://roseaulandgrab.com, to educate and garner support for families affected by this project.