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Supervisors Discuss Upcoming Legislative Committee Meeting

By Staff | Dec 2, 2010

Palo Alto County Supervisors are looking forward to an upcoming opportunity to visit with state lawmakers over the ongoing saga of Drainage District 80 and Five Island Lake. A discussion with the county’s drainage engineer and drainage attorney was conducted during the Nov. 23 meeting of the Supervisors.

Palo Alto County Drainage Engineer Don Etler, along with drainage attorney Bob Brinton, visited with the county supervisors via a conference call to discuss an upcoming legislative committee meeting that has been scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 15, at the state capitol in Des Moines. The committee will be comprised of two state senators, two state representatives, and other government staffers to discuss various drainage issues. Among the items to be discussed by the committee will be the ongoing dispute that Palo Alto County, as trustees of Drainage Ditch 80, has had with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, over a $96,000 drainage assessment against Five Island Lake.

The DNR sued the county over the assessment and despite losing their suit the first time, appealed the case and won, getting a district court judge to rule that the lake received no benefit from the drainage district. The supervisors have meet on numerous occasions with state officials, including a meeting earlier this summer with former DNR Head Rich Leopold. At that time, Leopold told local officials any decision on paying an assessment would have to come from the state’s Executive Council.

In the course of the conference call on Nov. 23, Etler told the board that he is optimistic about the upcoming meeting. “They are going to be looking at our evidence and will listen to our side of the story,” Etler told the group. “I feel they will send a recommendation to the Executive Council in our favor.”

“Do remember that we’re not actually going to re-try this case,” Attorney Bob Brinton spoke up. “But, we have to make the case to this committee that the lake truly does benefit from the drainage district.”

“We also have to show how the DNR went out of their way to go after us in this case,” Etler added. “Their failure to get the notice, not following the deadlines for objections, the special treatment they received.”

“Our focus at this meeting has to be on the benefit the lake gets from the drainage district,” Brinton said again. “They’re not going to decide one way or the other. This is a legislative matter and we need to make the case to them that the idea of equity to all landowners in the drainage district requires the state to pay their fair share of the assessment.”

Supervisor Ed Noonan expressed an opinion that the DNR should be made to say who made the original decision to sue the county over the assessment. “They’ve never admitted to who it was that made the decision to file suit.”

“That’s a collateral issue,” Brinton replied. “The real issue is the equity to the landowners. We really need to focus all attention of this interim committee that the Legislature has the will and has the means to give the drainage district the money it is owed. Equity requires Five Island Lake to pay its’ fair share.”

The supervisors agreed to have Chairman Jerry Hofstad speak on behalf of the board during the meeting, along with Etler and Brinton. The supervisors also reviewed various photos and exhibits that they will bring to the session to help make their argument.

In other business, the board canvassed the official recount of votes for the Palo Alto County Attorney’s race, which saw a difference of two votes from the original election night totals. Incumbent Peter C. Hart wound up with 1,917 votes, a gain of one, while challenger Lyssa Henderson received 1,959 votes, a decrease of one for a final difference of 42 votes in favor of Henderson. The recount was conducted on Wednesday, Nov. 17 by a special three-member recount board appointed by the two candidates.

Supervisors also met with Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz, along with Pat Madsen and Andy Barnes, to discuss bids for a new wheeled excavator for the Secondary Road Department. A total of three machines were evaluated in hands-on testing by Barnes and other employees. The county had leased a Volvo excavator after its’ existing Bantam wheeled excavator broke down in the late summer. Also tested were excavators from John Deere and Caterpillar.

The group discussed merits of each of the three machines, but took no action during the session.