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Hearing Date Set For Proposed Drainage Project

By Staff | Aug 26, 2009

by Dan Voigt

The joint Palo Alto and Kossuth County Boards of Supervisors set a date for a public hearing on a proposed drainage project following a telephone conference on Tuesday, Aug. 18. The hearing on the Lateral B Open Ditch of Joint Drainage District One will be Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 10 a.m. at the Palo Alto County Election Center.

Drainage Engineer Don Etler appeared to present his report on the district, which is located in sections 25 and 36 of Independence Township and Section 31 of Fenton Township. A petition filed in June of 2007 by Fenton area farmer George Bierstedt requested a clean out of the open ditch to remove silt to restore the original grade of the ditch. In his report to the joint boards, Etler noted that there would be no need to reclassify the district, or to obtain additional right-of-way, as a clean out was done in the 1980’s.

“The big problem here is that wetlands are involved in this district,” Etler said. “Because wetlands are involved, the Farm Service Agency will not release landowners from any liability for their wetlands and CRP regulations if a repair is done to a drainage district that affects a wetland, especially if the lands do not meet the CRP or wetlands criteria.”

Etler went on to explain that over time, some wetlands were established with the USDA’s permission over tile lines that are part of the joint drainage district and many of those tiles were not disconnected. However, when a cleanout in the1980’s was done, the original plans of the district were unavailable and the project engineer at that time attempted to determine a grade level for the ditch. That grade ended up being too high, resulting in some tiles running into the ditch being submerged all the time. Additionally, the grade ended up being very flat, and water stands and becomes stagnant in the ditch in a couple of locations.

“When this petition was received, we were able to find the original ditch plans in a vault at the county engineer’s office, and the original grade was lower than what was restored in the 1980’s cleanout,” Etler noted.

Etler went on to explain that as he studied the ditch and corresponded with the various federal agencies it became apparent that there could be problems with a cleanout and repair, because it could affect the wetlands.

“I’d say the government was wrong in allowing wetlands to be designated over tiles,” stated Kossuth County Supervisor Jack Plate. “You can’t stop a farmer from cleaning his tile to keep his drainage working.”

“That’s the issue,” Etler agreed. “The government has a new policy, that any farm wetlands are assumed connected if any downstream improvements are made to drainage.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Plathe responded.

“And, the government will only deal with the individual affected landowners, not us as the engineers,” Etler noted.

“We need to get our state legislators involved in this so they can see just how ridiculous this is,” Plathe suggested.

“In any regard, the improvement option of restoring the original grade can be done,” Etler said. “But we have to deal very carefully with these wetland issues.”

In his report, Etler presented two options for the ditch, a straight cleanout with an estimated cost of $301,540, or a cleanout and restoration to the original ditch grade with an estimated cost of $495,055.

The costs for the project would be spread out over the landowners according to the established benefits schedule for the 5,300 acres in the district.

“Something needs to be done out there,” noted Tom Struecker, a landowner who also supported the repair petition with Bierstedt. “It figures out to about $4 an acre, and if you can’t afford that, maybe you shouldn’t be farming anymore.”

As the board members set the date for the public hearing, Etler reminded the bodies that the Remonstrance provision could come into play in the situation. “A simple majority of the landowners of 70 percent of the lands in the district can object, and that would kill this,” Etler noted.

“Is that a possibility?” Palo Alto Board Chair Ed Noonan asked Struecker and Bierstedt.

“It could be, we’ll just have to talk to the folks,” Struecker replied.”