Shoreland Management


Bluff Protection Standards in Minnesota

Development standards are one of the most important protection strategies local governments can use. Minimum structure setbacks from bluffs and related development standards apply to land in the Shoreland, Wild and Scenic River, St. Croix Riverway, and the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area districts. Each of these programs have different bluff definitions, and have their own unique standards regulating setbacks, vegetation removal and land alteration. The minimum standards for Shoreland, Wild and Scenic River, and the Lower St. Croix Riverway were established decades ago.

Over time, we have learned that the minimum structure setbacks may not provide sufficient protection for properties adjacent to unstable slopes and stream banks. Because of this, communities are encouraged to enforce more stringent standards - particularly for vulnerable areas.

Each of the following regulatory programs are administered by local governments through their zoning ordinances. If land is regulated by more than one program, the most restrictive provisions apply. Bluffs can be mapped for planning purposes by using the DNR’s bluff mapping tool.


Shoreland

The state wide shoreland program affects the greatest area and includes land within 1,000 feet of any public water body or 300 feet of any public water river or stream, or the landward extent of their floodplains. Only land around public waters with a shoreland classification are regulated.

For more information about the shoreland program including all development standards, please see the Shoreland Management Program page.

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Bluff Definitions

Bluff:

  • Part or all of the feature is located in a shoreland area;
  • The slope rises at least 25 feet above the toe of bluff;
  • The grade of the slope from the toe of the bluff to a point 25 feet or more above the toe of the bluff averages 30 percent or greater, except that an area with an average slope of less than 18 percent over a distance of at least 50 feet shall not be considered part of the bluff; and
  • The slope must drain toward the waterbody.

Bluff Impact Zone: a bluff and land located within 20 feet of the top of a bluff.

Toe of Bluff: the lower point of a 50-foot segment with an average slope exceeding 18 percent or the ordinary high water level (OHWL), whichever is higher.

Top of Bluff: the higher point of a 50-foot segment with an average slope exceeding 18 percent.

Steep Slopes: lands having average slopes over 12 percent, as measured over horizontal distances of 50 feet or more, that are not bluffs.

Bluff Setback Standards

Structure setbacks must be at least 30’ from top of bluff

Soil erosion impacts and visibility impacts must be considered before issuing a permit for construction on steep slopes. When determined necessary, local governments must impose appropriate conditions.

Standards for Vegetation Management

Intensive vegetation clearing in the shore and bluff impact zones and on steep slopes is prohibited.

Limited clearing and trimming of trees and shrubs in the shore and bluff impact zones and on steep slopes, is allowed to provide a view to the water from the principal dwelling and to accommodate the placement of stairways and landings, picnic areas, access paths, livestock watering areas, beach and watercraft access areas, and permitted water-oriented accessory structures or facilities.

Standards for Land Alteration

To limit the amount of erosion and sediment during construction, a grading and filling permit is required for the movement of more than ten (10) cubic yards of material on steep slopes or within shore or bluff impact zones or more than 50 cubic yards in other areas of the shoreland district.

 

Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA)

Land within the MRCCA is defined by legal description and may be mapped using boundary data available on MNGEO.

For more information about the MRCCA program including all development standards, please see the
Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA).

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Bluff Definitions

Bluff: a natural topographic feature either of the following:

  • a slope that rises at least 25 feet and the grade of the slope averages 18 percent or greater, measured over a horizontal distance of 25 feet, as follows:
    • where the slope begins above the OHWL, from the toe of the slope to the top of the slope; or
    • where the slope begins below the OHWL, from the ordinary high water level to the top of the slope; or
  • a natural escarpment or cliff with a slope that rises at least ten feet above the OHWL or toe of the slope, whichever is applicable, to the top of the slope, with a slope of 75 degrees or greater.

Bluff Impact Zone: the bluff and land within 20 feet of the bluff.

Bluffline: a line delineating the top of the bluff. More than one bluffline may be encountered proceeding landward from the river.

Toe of the bluff: a line along the bottom of a bluff, requiring field verification, such that the slope above the line exceeds 18 percent and the slope below the line is 18 percent or less, measured over a horizontal distance of 25 feet.

Top of the bluff: a line along the top of a bluff, requiring field verification, such that the slope below the line exceeds 18 percent and the slope above the line is 18 percent or less, measured over a horizontal distance of 25 feet.

Bluff Setback Standards

Structure Setbacks from bluffline vary by MRCCA District. Districts may be mapped using data available on MNGEO.

Bluff setbacks include:

  • Rural Open Space District: 100’ from bluffline
  • All other districts: 40’ from bluffline

Standards for Vegetation Management

Selective vegetation removal is allowed without a permit. A permit is required for any intensive vegetation removal in bluff impact zones, shore impact zone and (see MRCCA rules for other areas). A permit may carry conditions for approval.

Limited clearing and trimming of trees and shrubs in the shore and bluff impact zones and on steep slopes, is allowed to provide a view to the water from the principal dwelling and to accommodate the placement of stairways and landings, picnic areas, access paths, livestock watering areas, beach and watercraft access areas, and permitted water-oriented accessory structures or facilities.

Standards for Land Alteration

Land alteration is prohibited in the bluff impact zone, except for erosion control projects and repair and maintenance of existing structures, which would be guided through a local permit process.

 

Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers

Land within the MRCCA is defined by legal description and may be mapped using data available on MNGEO.

The following definition and setback standards apply to land within the Kettle, Mississippi, Minnesota, Rum, Canon, and North Fork of Crow River districts. Land within each river district is classified as Wild, Scenic or Recreational River for purposes of establishing standards.

For more information about the Wild and Scenic River program including all development standards, please see the Wild and Scenic Program page.

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Bluff Definitions

Bluffline: a line along the top of a slope connecting the points at which the slope becomes less than 13 percent.

Bluff Setback Standards

Structure Setbacks from bluffline vary by District. Districts may be mapped using data available on MNGEO.

Structure Setbacks from bluffline are:

  • Wild River Districts: 40’
  • Scenic River Districts: 30’
  • Recreational River Districts: 20’

Standards for Vegetation Management

Selective cutting of trees in excess of four inches at breast height is allowed if cutting is spaced and a continuous tree cover is maintained. Clear cutting, except for public services such as roads and utilities, is not permitted within:

  • The following distances from the Normal High Water Mark:
    • Wild River Districts: 200 ft
    • Scenic River Districts: 150 ft
    • Recreational River Districts: 100 ft
    • Designated Tributaries of wild, scenic and recreational rivers identified in rules: 100 ft
  • The following distances from blufflines:
    • Wild River Districts: 40 ft
    • Scenic River Districts: 30 ft
    • Recreational River Districts: 30 ft

Clear cutting standards:

  • Not allowed on highly erodible soils or where risk of sediment pollution is high
  • Clear cut blocks, strips and patches are shaped and blended with the natural terrain
  • The size of clear cut blocks, strips and patches are minimized
  • Conducted between September 15 and May 15, when feasible.
  • Clear cut areas are replanted to prevent erosion and to maintain the aesthetic quality of the area.

Standards for Grading and Filling

Only land alterations accessory to a permitted or conditional use are allowed.?Consult local regulations on permit requirements for allowed land alteration activity.

 

Lower St. Croix Riverway

The following definition and setback standards apply to land within the Lower St Croix Riverway District, which extends from Taylors Falls to the confluence with the Mississippi River. All lands within the Riverway District are classified as either urban or rural for purposes of establishing standards.

For more information about the Lower St. Croix Riverway program including all development standards, please see the Lower St. Croix Riverway page.

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Bluff Definitions

Bluffline: a line along the top of a slope connecting the points at which the slope, proceeding away from the river or adjoining watershed channel, becomes less than 12 percent; For the complete definition see 6105.0354 Subp. 5. This link leads to an external site.

Bluff Setback Standards

Structure Setbacks from bluffline:

  • Rural districts: ≥ 100 feet from a bluffline
  • Urban districts: ≥ 40 feet from a bluffline

Standards for Vegetation Management

Cutting of trees and shrubs is not allowed without a local permit:

  • On slopes over 12%
  • Within 40 feet of blufflines
  • Within the following distances from the Ordinary High Water Level:
    • Rural Districts: 200 feet
    • Urban Districts: 100 feet

A local permit is only allowed for:

  • Trees less than 6 inches in diameter at breast height
  • Vegetation not screening structures from views from the river
  • Activities that preserve essential character, quality, densite and continuous canopy
  • Diseased trees, if removal is in public interest

Permits not needed for:

  • The minimum necessary for activities under a building permit
  • Maintenance of transportation and utility rights-of-way

Standards for Grading and Filling

A local land alteration permit is needed for all soil disturbance activity except activity under a building permit. Consult local regulations on permit requirements for allowed land alteration activity.