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Informal Hearing Provides Landowners Food For Thought

By Staff | Jul 9, 2015

An informal hearing on proposed improvements to Drainage District 61 Lateral B near Rodman left landowners to do some soul searching on June 30. The area in question is located in Sections 16, 17, 21, 22 and 23 of Fern Valley Township.

Drainage Engineer Rick Hopper of Jacobson-Westergard and Associates of Estherville presented a preliminary engineering report to 21 landowners of the district during the hearing, held at the Palo Alto County Election Center. Also present for the gathering were the members of the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors.

“This report was made in response to a petition filed July 29, 2014, that requested improvements be made to Lateral B of DD61, starting at the open ditch and running northwest,” Hopper explained in his opening remarks. “The petition also asked that we look into extending the open ditch or possibly installing a larger tile.”

According to Hopper, the current district has a drainage coefficient of less than one-eighth of an inch, and that installing a tile to give a one-inch drainage coefficient would not be possible, due to a lack of cover available for the tile.

“With those factors, we looked at tile to provide a one-half inch coefficient, and an open ditch, which would give the equivalent of a two-inch coefficient,” Hopper said. The tile option would have estimated construction costs of $2,587,080 and with engineering and other costs, would total $3,340,945, which averages $935.51 an acre. The open ditch option would have estimated construction costs of $797,280, and with engineering and other costs, would total $1,585,358, or an average of $443.85 per acre.”

Hopper continued, “this district is drastically undersized and either of these options would be an improvement, so the Remonstrance provision can come into play on this.”

With Hopper’s presentation concluded, landowners were able to ask several questions on the proposals. One question asked if an open ditch would require more maintenance than a tile.

“Yes, an open ditch will require more maintenance,” Hopper agreed. “You’d have to clean it out more often, say within 10 years of building it, and then every 20 years after that.”

Hopper noted that open ditches do provide an opportunity to carry more surface runoff, and to address that, ditches are designed with grass filter strips along the edges and around surface drains, to help address filtering of nitrates.

“The tile that’s there was put in back in 1914 and there’s been maintenance on it, fixing broken tiles,” noted James Miller. “And, the waterway has been cleaned out twice.”

“I think an open ditch would open up a can of worms,” observed Doug Miller. “Property would be lost by an open ditch, right?”

“I believe seven or eight landowners would have the open ditch go through their property,” Hopper agreed.

When asked by Supervisors Board Chairman Craig Merrill for a show of hands in opposition to an open ditch, a majority of the landowners raised their hands.

“A lot of land around there has been pattern tiled into a 30-inch main,” noted Jay Bargmann. “An open ditch would be a loss of value of my land for me.”

“I can see looking at this how it would improve drainage, but I’m undecided about it,” stated Fred Wirtz Junior. “I am pleasantly surprised at the tile cost per acre, though.”

Discussion continued for several minutes on what would happen to the existing Lateral B tile line and surface drain system if a new tile or the open ditch were constructed. “If tile were put in, would the surface drain go away?” Doug Miller asked.

“We would try to bring dirt in to level it,” Hopper answered.

“I’d be kind of uncomfortable about filling in the surface drain,” Fred Wirtz Junior said.

The conversation continued for a few more minutes until Merrill thanked the group for attending, and reminded those in attendance that the formal hearing on the proposed improvements was set for 1 p.m. on August 4 in the Election Center.

“One thing we need to think about between now and then is with the increased regulations that appear to be coming in the future, if we don’t do something, we may not be able to do anything down the road,” Fred Wirtz Junior said to conclude the discussion.