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Minnesota's 86,000-Acre Problem

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CRAVAACK. Mr. Speaker, for far too long--over 30 years, in fact--Minnesota and its students have been faced with an 86,000-acre problem.

When Minnesota became a State in 1858, sections 16 and 36 of every township were set aside in trust for the benefit of schools. The State could use, lease, or sell the land to raise money for education. Then, in the 1970s, the Federal Government created the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. These State school trust lands within the Boundary Waters cannot be timber harvested, leased, or utilized for their minerals. Thus, they are not generating money for the school trust. As a result, approximately 86,000 acres of State trust lands are currently locked within the borders of the Boundary Waters and unable to produce critical funding for Minnesota public education.

Ultimately, Congress got us into this situation in the first place, and Congress will have to get us out.

On June 8, the Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, conducted a comprehensive hearing on this legislation. Our goal: preserve and protect the Boundary Waters and allow State-owned school trust lands to raise revenue for Minnesota education through utilizing our timber and mineral resources.

It is imperative we resolve this longstanding problem. Minnesota law specifies these lands must earn money for the school trust. In fact, the State has a constitutional responsibility to earn a financial return from these lands to fund the education system.

That is why I introduced H.R. 5544, the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act, which will give State-owned school trust lands trapped in the Boundary Waters to the Federal Government in exchange for Federal Government-owned land outside the Boundary Waters. This legislation is needed for the Federal Government to execute the bipartisan plan recently agreed upon by the Minnesota Legislature and signed by the Governor.

Our economy cannot wait, and our kids in the classroom shouldn't either. This legislation will produce new opportunities to create well-paying jobs and additional revenue for our schools.

Minnesota's school trust lands are a 154-year investment in our future. Times are tight, and our schools and teachers could use the help. Currently, some school districts in Minnesota, including mine in North Branch, have classes with up to 40 students and have scaled back to 4-day school weeks.

Just recently, the largest paper in Minnesota, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, penned an opinion piece which stated that enactment of this legislation would be a boon for our economy in the Eighth. Unfortunately, special interests are attempting to derail this broad, bipartisan land swap plan, which includes jobs for Minnesotans and additional revenue to fund our schools. To swap these lands trapped within the Boundary Waters for lands located outside the Boundary Waters--to simply execute this Federal action--our State, its people, and our students should not endure years of litigation and disingenuous delay.

Importantly, the Minnesota Education Investment Employment Act would not eliminate a single acre of Boundary Waters land. In fact, it would add Federal wilderness acres to the existing boundaries. The Boundary Water Canoe Area wilderness would therefore become whole.

The Boundary Water Canoe Area is an important and vital aspect of the Eighth District of Minnesota, and we will take care of it. As a side benefit--the bill guarantees Minnesotans will retain their existing hunting and fishing rights in the Boundary Waters.

Now, more than ever, it is our duty as Minnesota's leaders to honor the State's obligations owed to Minnesota students and restore the integrity of the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness. This is a team effort, and I am ready to work with involved stakeholders and my colleagues to put Minnesota schools first.

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