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A buffer for things that go bump in the night
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The land around central Minnesota's Camp Ripley is filled with miles of woodlands and lakes, just the kind of land developers might gobble up in a few years. Camp Ripley officials want to keep the land development free by buying development rights from land owners within thre miles of the camp. (MPR Photo/Tim Post)
Camp Ripley in central Minnesota is one of the largest National Guard camps in the country. Miles of woodlands and lakes surround the camp, it's prime development territory. Military officials fear increasing development might limit when they can use noisy aircraft and artillery. Guard leaders hope surrounding landowners will take part in a new program that buys their development rights, creating a development-free buffer zone around the camp. But the program is a hard sell for some landowners.

Camp Ripley, Minn. — Anyone who lives near Camp Ripley is used to the sounds of war. Day and night, throughout the year, jets roar overhead. And then there's the constant crack of small arms fire and the occasional house rattling boom of artillery explosions. That noise, along with dust and smoke, spills out into surrounding farmland.

For the most part neighbors accept the inconveniences of living next to a 53,000-acre National Guard facility. Camp commander Lt. Colonel Rich Weaver says that means the camp is free to do what it wants, for now.

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Image F-16 flyover

"Right now we do not have restrictions. We can fire, we can fly, we can do all of our training seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That isn't the case at some posts. They have restrictions. They cannot fire after a certain time at night," Weaver said.

Encroaching housing developments have closed gun ranges and limited hours of operation at some Army bases in Florida, Texas and Arizona. To prevent that in the mostly undeveloped lands surrounding Camp Ripley, officials want to create a buffer zone.

They're buying development rights from land owners around the camp. Camp Ripley's environmental advisor, Marty Skoglund, says the program is not a land grab, it's voluntary.

A landowner would get a check for anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of their property's value. They still own the land, they just can't sell off parts of it for commercial or residential development. Skoglund says the land is then placed in permanent easement with either the state or a conservation group.

"If you want to cut trees, plant trees, farm it, it's still private land. You still control your hunting rights on that land, nothing changes, that's your right as a land owner. All we're looking for is their development rights," Skoglund said

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Image Dick and Shirley Japp

Skoglund says a lot of landowners around the camp are excited about the program. Most never had any intention of developing their land.

But not everyone thinks it's a good idea. Dick Japp and his wife, Shirley, were both born and raised near Camp Ripley. They now live on 70 heavily wooded acres three miles north of camp, within earshot of the artillery ranges.

Dick Japp says they're accustomed to hearing things go bump in the night. "Sometimes in the middle of the night, it's quite a shock when you wake up wondering what that was," said Japp, who thinks the buffer program is an unnecessary use of federal money.

"The people that live or move in here as a rule fully understand what Camp Ripley is about. It's a training base and you know there's is going to be explosions. This is no problem," Japp said.

Dick and Shirley Japp have a worry about the buffer program. It has to do with their taxes. Since land without development rights is worth less, it's taxed less too. Dick and Shirley Japp are afraid if they don't sign up for the program, their taxes will go up, to make up for the lost revenue from landowners in the program who are paying less in taxes.

Officials at Camp Ripley say any affect on area taxes would be barely noticeable. The camp's environmental advisor, Marty Skoglund, says they hope to get a few people signed up for the program soon, to showcase it for other landowners.

"I think what you're going to find is there's a certain amount of reluctance among landowners. When they see that it's working like we promised, you're going to see much more interest in the program," Skoglund said.

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Image Tom Koenig

There's a total of 110,000 acres of land around the camp that officials would like to see stay development-free. They know this program will only set aside a small portion of that, so the plan is to focus on areas with the strongest development pressure. For instance the east side of Camp Ripley along the Mississippi and the northern border near Baxter.

Military officials say it could could cost up to $50 million to buy development rights around the camp. They admit they'll be satisfied if only quarter of landowners sign up for the voluntary program. It won't end the encroachment on Camp Ripley, but they say at least it'll be less of a problem.

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