WASHINGTON, D.C. [12/20/19]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) heeded her call and will maintain federal payments to three counties in northern Minnesota at current levels, which is welcome news to Lake, St. Louis and Cook Counties. The Counties benefit from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) as a world-renowned tourist destination, but they also forgo property taxes and other potential revenue streams.
Congress passed the Thye Blatnik Act over 70 years ago, which directed the Secretary of Agriculture to acquire lands within the future BWCAW and set up a system of annual compensation payments to the host counties. The most recent appraisal suggested that there had been an unbelievable 49 percent decline in property values in a mere decade, and Sen. Smith stood up for Lake, St. Louis and Cook Counties by urging USDA Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky to continue Thye Blatnik payments at previous appraisal levels until either a full appeal process is completed or a new appraisal can be conducted.
“Thye Blatnik payments have been a vital source of revenue for Cook, St. Louis and Lake Counties in northeastern Minnesota since 1948. A suspect and likely wrong reappraisal of lands in those counties conducted by the Trump Administration last year threatened to reduce county revenue dramatically,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Today, I am pleased that the Administration has listened to my advice and will redo their 2018 reappraisal and continue current levels of payments to the counties until that new appraisal is complete.”
You can access Sen. Smith’s letter to Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky pushing to secure this outcome here.