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New river rules raise concerns in Newport

New state rules proposed for a Mississippi River critical area that includes Newport could place a heavy burden on city officials and restrict what riverfront homeowners can do with their own properties.

City Council members recently approved a "strongly worded" letter expressing the city's displeasure with a number of the proposed changes that will be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The state agency is heading the effort to stiffen rules regarding land use, water quality, vegetation management and future land use within the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area.

Sherri Buss, a senior planner with TKDA, a planning firm contracted by the city, told City Council members at a meeting last month the proposed amendments include "a number of things ... that you all and residents of Newport would be concerned about."

If approved, the new regulations would:

-- Force Newport to revise its city development and zoning codes to reflect the new standards;

-- Create dozens of non-conforming properties that would affect the expansion or alteration of existing structures in Newport, including a number of riverfront homes;

-- Require the city to create and enforce new permits and assume monitoring and management duties of the new rules.

The new state rules would come without state funding.

"This is garbage," said City Council member Tom Ingemann. "I could use some other words, but I won't."

Buss said other communities that would be impacted by the new regulations have already submitted comments to the DNR. She said the agency is expected to move forward with the rulemaking process early next year.

Brian Anderson, Newport's city administrator, said last week he is "cautiously optimistic" that Newport's objections and those from other cities along the river will help limit the wide-ranging changes.

"We hope it will put a halt to the whole thing -- or at least water it down enough -- so it won't have a big impact on the city and its residents," Anderson said in an interview.

The new rules would increase the required distance structures need to be setback from the riverfront, and would limit how much structures within the setback could be altered. The rules would also limit how much property owners could alter vegetation along the riverfront.

City officials say the new rules would be extremely difficult for the city to enforce.

The state is saying, "You be the bad guys," City Council member Corb Hopkins said. "You do it for us, and (get) no money, and no recognition and no reward."