After several months of uncertainty over a major drainage project in the northern portion of the county, Palo Alto County Supervisors are feeling a bit more optimistic about the outcome of some federal concerns over the project. A meeting in Des Moines on April 15 involving Dean Lemke of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, Drainage engineers Don Etler and Kent Rode and Drainage attorney Tom Lawler and Supervisors Ron Graettinger and Keith Wirtz, also included representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency via a telephone conference call.
A report on the meeting was given as part of the April 16 meeting of the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors.
At issue was a cease and desist order for work on Drainage District 15 North, which the EPA issued in December of 2012. The order was issued after a permit had not been issued for construction on the district's facilities by the Army Corps of Engineers. At the time the order was issued, the possibility of the drainage district being fined several thousands of dollars per day was suggested.
Representatives of the EPA visited the construction site in February of this year, and were briefed on the project, which is being constructed as part of a federal and state nitrate reduction program to address concerns with the Hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
"I would say that I came away from that meeting with the feeling that the EPA wants to settle this issue," Supervisor Keith Wirtz told the board. "Dean Lemke and Bill Northey both told the EPA that its tough for them to sell landowners on these kind of projects, and especially when the EPA is causing these kinds of distractions and difficulties."
Graettinger agreed with Wirtz's assessment. "Bill Northey was really good in arguing our case with the EPA. He reminded them they were the ones who were pushing for this nitrate reduction in the Gulf of Mexico, and then for them to try and fine us was just dumb. All in all, we all felt it was a good meeting."
"Bill Northy really commended Palo Alto County for being a pioneer in this nitrate reduction effort with this project," Wirtz added. "He told the EPA that, and that was really nice of him to do."
Engineer Kent Rode, of I&S and Associates, who was present during the discussion, agreed with the comments of the two board members and added an additional comment.
"Dean Lemke also told the EPA that the Palo Alto County Courthouse had the best-run Auditor's office of any in the state that he works with on drainage. And, I'd agree with that, too," Rode said.
In other business, Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz and Secondary Road Mechanic Pat Madsen presented the board with bids for a new end loader for the Secondary Road Department.
"We received three bids and after comparing the bids, we are recommending a model 950 Caterpillar loader from Ziegler CAT of Fort Dodge, at $214,000," Fantz said.
"We had a bid of $234,000 for a John Deere loader," noted Madsen. "This loader will take the place of a 1984 Deere loader that we can no longer get several replacement parts, like hydraulic valves and radiators for."
"Taking into consideration the price, parts availability and service, we felt the CAT was the better deal," Fantz explained.
The old Deere loader will be kept, giving each maintenance district a loader, according to Madsen.
"That makes sense to me," Wirtz said, as the board approved the purchase of the new loader.
Fantz also reported to the board that Assistant to the Engineer Dan Grignon had resigned his position. "It's certainly a disappointment to see him go," Fantz said. "We will be starting a search for a qualified replacement immediately."
In a final item of business, the board approved the awarding of contract to Reilly Contracting of Ossian for construction on the South Bypass project. Reilly was the low bidder for the grading project and preparation for paving with a bid of $533,787.34. The dirtwork will be done this year, with paving for the South Bypass, along with the North Bypass, being planned for 2014.