ROSEAU, Minn.—Four days before a crucial Roseau River Watershed District (RRWD) meeting that will include discussion of the controversial Roseau Lake Rehabilitation project, the RRWD Board made an unusual announcement: board meetings will no longer be viewable online, and individuals wishing to address the board must give 10 days’ notice. Other attendees will only be permitted to speak “at the discretion of the Chairman.” The Roseau County Landowners Coalition, made up of landowners who stand to have their land rendered unfarmable from the project, are thus left with no venue to make their voices heard as this pointless project proceeds.
The Roseau County Landowners Coalition has worked alongside the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national nonprofit dedicated to stopping government abuse of property rights.
“To call this move a ‘lack of transparency,’ massively understates the audacity of RRWD’s decision. If a state agency threatens your land for no good reason, the least it can do is give you a chance to make your objections heard,” said IJ Assistant Director of Activism Chad Reese. “Remote meeting access is a vital way for busy farmers and landowners to engage with the RRWD, and the board has suddenly pulled the rug out from under stakeholders trying to make their voices heard. This cruel decision should outrage all Minnesotans who think the government should not be allowed to trample over its residents’ property rights.”
The coalition has previously highlighted the injustice of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) being both the project proposer and reviewer, and RRWD for its failure to honor its mediation agreement concerning flood damage reduction projects, noting the proposed Roseau Lake project will do nothing for exceptional storms, a benchmark agreed upon for flood reduction projects. The project work team, which includes landowners and whose participation in project development is required by the agreement, has also been largely ignored by the RRWD for years.
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.
“It’s like they’re trying to cover their tracks about what they’re doing here,” said Mitch Magnusson, who has worked the land on his farm in Roseau since the 1980s. “They say they want to continue to work with landowners, but they haven’t done that in the past. And how can you say you’re working with landowners when we have busy schedules on the farm and some of us are from out of town and cannot attend virtually?”