Mississippi River Critical Area Program - History and Scope

Critical Areas Act

In 1973, the Critical Areas Act was enacted (Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 116G). The Minnesota Legislature found that the development of certain areas possessing important historic, cultural, or aesthetic values or natural systems that perform functions of greater than local significance could result in irreversible damage to these resources, decrease their value and utility for public purposes, or unreasonably endanger life and property. The state should identify these areas of critical concern and assist and cooperate with local units of government in preparation of plans and regulations for wise use of these areas. Pursuant to the statutes, the Environmental Quality Board adopted rules to implement the Act (Minnesota Rules, parts 4410.8100 - 4410.9910).

Mississippi River Designation

The Mississippi River and its adjacent corridor was designated a state critical area on October 18, 1976, by Governor Wendell Anderson through Executive Order No. 130. The designation of the river and its corridor as a State Critical Area was reaffirmed and continued by Governor Albert Quie on March 27, 1979, through Executive Order 79-19 pdf, and made permanently a state critical area by action of the Metropolitan Council on July 12, 1979. In 1991, the Minnesota Legislature designated the federal Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), a unit of the National Park Service, as a state critical area in accordance with Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 116G.

Corridor Boundary

The Mississippi River Critical Area Corridor extends from the northern borders of the cities of Dayton and Ramsey to the southern boundary of Dakota County on the west/south side of the river and the boundary with the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway on the east/north side of the river [see Critical Area/MNRRA Corridor Map]. Four corridor districts were established: Rural Open Space district, Urban Diversified district, Urban Developed district, and Urban Open Space district. The boundaries of the Mississippi River Critical Area Corridor and that of MNRRA are the same.

Designation Purposes

The purposes of designating the Mississippi River as a state critical area include the following:

  1. protecting and preserving a unique and valuable state and regional resource for the benefit of the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens for the state, region, and nation;
  2. preventing and mitigating irreversible damage to this resource;
  3. preserving and enhancing its natural, aesthetic, cultural, and historical value for public use;
  4. protecting and preserving the river as an essential element in the national, state, and regional transportation, sewer and water, and recreational systems; and
  5. protecting and preserving the biological and ecological functions of the corridor.

Plans and Regulations

Local units of government and regional agencies are required to adopt critical area plans and regulations that comply with Executive Order 79-19. The standards in Executive Order 79-19, as well as Minnesota Statutes and Minnesota Rules, are required to be followed by all local units of government in the corridor when preparing or modifying plans and regulations. Local units of government and regional and state agencies shall permit development in the corridor only in accordance with those adopted plans and regulations or the Interim Development Regulations.

Agency Roles

Currently, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Metropolitan Council, and National Park Service work in partnership in various roles on the Mississippi River Critical Area Corridor and MNRRA Programs to protect and preserve the corridor. Management of the Mississippi River Critical Area Corridor was transferred from the Environmental Quality Board to the Department of Natural Resources in 1995.

DNR Roles

The DNR has three primary roles for the Mississippi River Critical Area Program. The DNR has undertaken the mandate of reviewing existing ordinances that affect lands within the Mississippi River Critical Area Corridor for their compliance with state critical area standards and guidelines. Technical assistance for ordinance development will be provided to local communities to ensure adoption and approval of a compliant state critical area ordinance or any ordinance amendments. DNR will also provide individualized technical assistance for amending existing ordinances or developing proposed ordinances that will be consistent with the voluntary MNRRA Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) policies. In addition, adoption or amendment of plans and ordinances affecting lands within the Mississippi River Critical Area Corridor and relating to Executive Order 79-19 purposes and standards are effective only after approval by the DNR. The DNR reviews the plans and ordinances to ensure their consistency with the provisions of Executive Order 79-19, following an evaluation by the Metropolitan Council.

In communities where critical area plans and ordinances have become effective, the local governmental unit also must notify the DNR area hydrologist at least 30 days before action is taken for all development applications or variances requiring a public hearing or discretionary action. In communities where plans and regulations have not been adopted or approved, the DNR is also to be notified about additional types of projects listed in the Interim Regulations. DNR will review and comment on the project's compliance with critical area and state requirements and MNRRA policies, as well as provide technical assistance as requested. Notice of the final action is to be sent to the DNR.

In addition to the Mississippi River Critical Area Program, the DNR also works with local units of government and citizens on three other land use management programs: Shoreland Management, Floodplain Management, and Wild and Scenic Rivers. For further information on all of DNR Waters programs, see the DNR Waters Programs Index.

Metropolitan Council Role

The Metropolitan Council reviews existing plans that affect lands within the Mississippi River Critical Area Corridor. Technical assistance is provided to assist communities in amending or adopting plans to become consistent with Executive Order 79-19 standards and guidelines [see Standards and Guidelines pdf] and any voluntary MNRRA CMP policies. The council reviews all critical area plans and ordinances and makes an evaluation to DNR prior to the approval decision. In addition, the council administers the pass-through funds from the National Park Service to provide financial assistance to communities wishing to revise their plans and ordinances. The council is also involved with oversight of the Metropolitan Land Planning Act.

Development Activities

Before considering a development activity within the Mississippi River Critical Area Corridor, always check with your local city or township zoning official to see what ordinance provisions and state laws will apply to your property. The local unit of government is responsible for enforcing the critical area plans and ordinances. However, DNR Critical Area Program personnel and DNR area hydrologists pdf are willing to partner and work with the landowner and zoning staff from the beginning of a project to ensure compliance with critical area purposes.