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A Mystery No Longer

By Staff | Jun 18, 2009

Even though the actual mystery has been pretty well been solved, landowners in Section 20 of Highland Township met with the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors to discuss what to do with the tile. Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz and Drainage Engineer Don Etler participated in the discussion on possible repairs to the 20-inch tile. With five landowners of Joint Drainage District 60 Lateral Nine in attendance, Etler explained the findings of a study he had conducted on the “mystery” tile and its future during the June 9 meeting of the Supervisors.

“There is a very good probability that this mystery 20-inch tile is actually a tile belonging to the drainage district, but that is not completely confirmed,” Etler told the group. “It has been in the drainage system for the past 50 years, and according to records, 1,800 feet was indicated in the plans, but another 200 feet of 20-inch tile was added to the district, which is the length of this section, so we feel the original maps were mis-marked.”

According to Etler, roughly 1,400 feet of the tile is very shallow, as when it was installed, it was covered with roughly two to three feet of dirt. “That cover has since settled, and our firm has found elevations of the tile have stayed very stable out there, but the cover over the tile is wearing away. Right now, it’s at a point where I can say it would be better to replace this line than to try and fix it.”

Etler noted that the area where the tile lies is an old lake bed, and that the actual peat base of the area is up to 20 feet thick, but that it has actually settled two or three feet over the years.

A repair to the open ditch of the district back in the 1990’s saw the ditch deepened two to three feet with the blessing of the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

“It’s my hope that the NRCS would allow us to bury a replacement tile line a couple or three feet deeper out there,” Etler said. “So, what we face here is deciding whether to cal this a repair and replace the tile, using 21-inch concrete or 24-inch plastic, or another option would be to abandon this tile completely and put in a shallow open ditch along a fence line.”

According to Etler’s rough estimates, the cost of tile would be $80,000 by following normal drainage law procedures, and the cost of an open ditch would be $50,000, going through the drainage law procedure.

“There are some major ifs to all this, too,” Etler said. “If the NRCS would allow it, allow us to deepen it, and if the costs could be made affordable. I really think we’re at a spot where consideration to abandon this tile if all the landowners would agree.”

Mike Geelan, a neighboring landowner, noted he saw no reason why the tile couldn’t be abandoned.

“What would happen if the district allowed Ron (Kruetner, the landowner where the tile runs) to take it over, but all of you guys helped pay to get it back in shape and then be done with it?” asked Supervisor Board Chair Ed Noonan.

“I think I like that idea,” Kruetner answered.

“I do too,” Geelan answered.

“If we go with a big repair, Ron’s going to get the big bill,” observed landowner Kirby Sampson. “Maybe if we all threw some money into this deal, it would work out better. I’d be willing to do something like that.”

Etler reminded the group that replacing the tile at a deeper depth would be the preferred course of action, but that such a project could be done much cheaper by the landowners themselves, rather than going through the drainage district.

“I think having Don work with the NRCS would be in your best interests,” noted County Engineer Joel Fantz. “You gentlemen would have to figure out an arrangement with Don for his services, but he would be your best bet.”

“Well, $80,000 is a bit rich for my blood,” Kruetner said. “I think we can do this individually a lot cheaper.”

“That’s what you need to do, is to reach a private agreement among yourselves,” Etler said. “Otherwise, the drainage district can do it, but at a much higher cost to you in the long run.”

Supervisor Ron Graettinger moved to have Don Etler contact the NRCS to explore wetland determinations and repair options for the 20-inch tile in Section 20 of Highland Township, and report back to the group of landowners to help them determine a course of action. The motion was seconded and approved unanimously by the supervisors.