Douglas County moves to protect environmental fund

The county's Land Conservation Committee hopes that changing the way grants are awarded will protect a fund created for conservation projects.

Douglas County Forest sign 1
A sign welcomes people to the Douglas County Forest near Solon Springs on Oct. 18, 2021.
Jed Carlson / 2021 File / Superior Telegram

SUPERIOR — Douglas County is taking steps to protect the remaining balance of its Environmental Reserve Fund.

The fund was created in 2007 using $350,000 of the environmental impact fee American Transmission Company paid when the Arrowhead-Weston transmission line was built between Hermantown and Wausau.

Managed by the land conservation committee, the fund was created to use interest earned on the principal to help pay for conservation projects.

The current balance is about $305,000, said Ashley Vande Voort, land conservationist. Part of the reason the fund has diminished over the years is the committee is paying for projects without knowing what actual interest is earned that year, she said.

The land conservation committee approved changes to the fund’s policy Tuesday, March 21 designed to ensure the committee only spends the interest earned on the principal.


Changes to the policy include establishing an annual application deadline of Oct. 1, with grants to be awarded by November for projects that will be completed for the following year.

Currently, applications are accepted throughout the year, which allows for a shorter wait time to fund projects, but it also allowed the committee to approve projects when they weren’t sure what the interest would be for the year, Vande Voort said.

The new policy does accommodate urgent funding requests that can’t wait to the following funding year, but only unspent interest from two years prior to the application could be spent on the project.

“If we don’t have unspent interest, then we don’t have funds to award,” Vande Voort said.

If funding a project would diminish the fund’s balance below $300,000, those funding requests would have to be approved by the county’s administration committee and the full county board.

“I’m happy you guys have settled on that $300,000,” said county board Chairman Mark Liebaert. He’s been concerned about the fund because of the decline in the principal over the last several years.

The new policy will be considered by the county's Administration Committee April 6 before going to the Douglas County Board on April 20.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or
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