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Supervisors Unhappy With DOT Work

By Staff | Sep 30, 2010

Over the last few weeks, contractors for the Iowa Department of Transportation have been working along U.S. Highway 18 just west of the Des Moines River to remove trees and work on the banks of Drainage District 132. That work, or perhaps the lack of some work and procedures involved in the project, have made the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors, as trustees of the drainage ditch, a little unhappy about the situation.

The topic came up during the weekly briefing on road and drainage matters with county engineer Joel Fantz during the Sept. 21 meeting of the Board of Supervisors. Fantz reported that after he had been questioned about the work, he had checked the area and found that following the contractors’ removal of trees, riprap had been placed along the ditch bank, and in several locations, the riprap was interfering with the flow of water in the ditch.

“The original plans for the DD show that it was constructed to have a 10 foot bottom,” Fantz said. “The DOT’s riprap is clearly obstructing the bottom of the ditch. And, they performed no debris removal or straightening when they were in there.”

The county had performed tree removal on the north side of the ditch back in 2008, hiring Schany Construction of Graettinger to remove trees on the north side from the river’s edge westerly to the cement bridge and continuing west until the ditch turns and runs northwesterly. That tree removal cost $19,000, and an additional $8,000 in ditch bank repair and seeding was also carried out at the district’s expense, along with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The south side of the ditch, paralleling Highway 18, is the responsibility of the DOT as it is part of the highway right-of-way.

In late August, Beck Excavating of Spirit Lake began removing the trees from the state right of way along the ditch, and then installed a cloth barrier and riprap on the south ditch bank for erosion control.

“Clearly, they are obstructing the ditch with the riprap by Iowa Code,” Fantz told the supervisors, “and they have the obligation to fix it, by the Code.”

The board then placed a conference call to drainage engineer Don Etler, who echoed many of Fantz’ observations.

“I’m just shocked by that way this work turned out,” Etler said. “The DOT is better than this. All their documents on this project say they were to have agreements with the Drainage District to do this work, and I don’t see any such documents.”

Palo Alto County Auditor Gary Leonard and Deputy Auditor/Drainage Clerk Carmen Moser both agreed that they had not been contacted by the DOT regarding any work on the district, and there were no documents from the DOT on file in the DD minutes regarding the work.

“Well, there’s no agreement with the district and they’ve infringed on the ditch,” Etler told the supervisors. “They’re going to have to make it right, that’s all there is to it.”

Fantz noted that he had contacted Mark Wright, an engineer on the DOT District Staff in Sioux City, and had set up a meeting at the work site this coming Friday, Sept. 24. Supervisors Ed Noonan and Ron Graettinger agreed to be on hand for the meeting, and Etler indicated he would attend as well to try and see what can be done to correct the situation.

On Tuesday, Sept. 28, Fantz updated the supervisors on the results of the meeting with the DOT regarding the ditch.

However, on Friday, Sept. 24, when the meeting took place, the ditch was filling rapidly with floodwaters from the west fork of the Des Moines River, all but obscuring the riprap job on the banks of the ditch.

“In meeting with the DOT out there last week, it was pretty much what I’d expected,”?Fantz reported to the board. “They tried to do the minimal amount of work to get by on the project. They never got permission from the Drainage District to do the work, and they realize they have some liability here.”

“That means they’ll try to do the least amount they can to make the DD happy,”?observed Noonan.

“This was the result of an organization being too big,”?Fantz said. “It was conceived in District Three in Sioux City, designed and engineered in Ames and carried out by the District two folks in Britt. To get this corrected, it will be a matter of you folks holding their feet to the fire and insisting they do what’s right for the drainage district.”

The board agreed that they would keep the pressure on the Department of Transportation to correct the issues.

“I hope that we spoke plainly and that they know they’re between a rock and a hard place,”?Fantz said, bringing the convesation to a close.