House committee hears comments on DNR purchases

A House panel this week listened to proponents and opponents of Senate Bill 248, legislation that would limit the amount of land the state Department of Natural Resources can own, and Rep. Ed McBroom sat before the microphone in favor of the bill.

“It’s about being good neighbors, where the state should pay its taxes and manage it lands just like any other landowner who is part of a community — right now the state is not a good neighbor,” said McBroom, R-Vulcan. “We can talk about the loss of tax revenue to local government and schools – and that’s all true, it’s a real concern – but it’s even more basic than that, this is about the people who live there.

“In my district, the DNR seems to buy land just because it’s available even when there’s other nearby state land that has recently been closed to public use. I believe to be a good neighbor, the state needs to slow down the purchasing and increase its long-term planning, which means the department should consider the people of the area in its decision making and then needs to share its thoughts and vision with local residents.”

SB 248, sponsored by Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, would:

Limit the DNR to owning surface rights to no more than 4.65 million acres of land;

· Require the DNR to post on its website the number of acres of surface land it owns;

· Require the DNR to offer at public auction tax-reverted land not sold within nine months and delete a provision that set acceptable bids at or above fair market value;

· Require the DNR to estimate payments in lieu of taxes on the land, and the change in property tax revenue to local governments, before acquiring surface rights.

The DNR’s land ownership limit would be removed if the department develops a comprehensive land management/purchasing plan that receives legislative approval.

“It doesn’t seem like the DNR has been following, or even has, an overall design plan for its public land ownership for decades,” McBroom said.

“The unchecked buying of everything in sight has resulted in many of Michigan’s counties and townships in the UP and northern Lower Peninsula at well over 50 percent government owned, and even close to 90 percent in some areas.”

The bill has already been approved by the Senate. It remains under consideration by the House Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee.