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Annexation To Proceed Following Hearing

By Staff | Jun 16, 2016

Following a public hearing on the possibility of annexing lands into Drainage District 175, the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors voted to annex 6,442 additional acres of farmlands into the district, which is adjacent to the Ayrshire area. The action came after a public hearing attended by 20 landowners from the area Tuesday afternoon, June 14.

DD175, which is primarily located in Great Oak and Silver Lake Townships, was established in 1954 through the channelization of Silver Creek, according to Drainage Engineer Don Etler of Boulton and Menk of Spencer. “This makes DD175 one of the newest districts in Palo Alto County, and it contains 4,900 acres.”

According to Etler, the district actually has a watershed area of 39,700 acres, but that only one-eighth of those acres are paying assessments for the upkeep of DD175. “However, DD175 has very steep banks along its length, and with the gravel and sandy soils in the area, they create more of a maintenance issue than most of the other ditches in the county.”

Etler noted that since 1993 when severe flooding occurred, DD175 has experienced significant damage from high water flows in 2001, 2007 and again in 2014. “In 2001, the ditch qualified for assistance from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for repairs due to high water, and it qualified again in 2007. We applied for FEMA assistance in 2014, but because FEMA always has new people, we have to re-educate them every time we apply, so we are in the appeal and review stage, but we expect approval in the next couple of months.”

According to Etler, DD175 sustained $17,000 in damages in 2001, $22,000 in damages in 2007, and $68,000 in 2014.

After reviewing the history, Etler noted that the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors had received a petition calling for an annexation in 2015, which led to a study on the question and Tuesday’s hearing.

“Our report gives two options for annexation,” Etler said. “The first is to annex the entire watershed of 39,700 acres, or secondly, to annex the areas which would be needed to maximize the use of Common Outlet assessments.”

Under the second option, an additional 6,442 acres would be annexed into DD175 to assist with payment for any future work in the district. Additionally, eight districts that adjoin DD175 would also receive Common Outlet assessments. Those eight districts are DD118, DD74, DD 176, DD91, DD124, DD23, DD153 and DD73.

Using the 2014 damage amount of $68,000 to DD175, Etler estimated the average assessments to landowners using the annexation of 6,442 acres and the Common Outlet assessments would total $2.50 per acre. Using the annexation of the entire watershed option of 39,700 acres would make the assessment $2 per acre.

“It is important to note that if FEMA funding is not received, these assessments would be multiplied by about 6.7,” Etler noted in his brief.

When asked if FEMA funding for repairs would tie DD175 into the Waters of the United States legislation, Etler answered that it would not. “Actually, the State of Iowa has more to say about how FEMA dollars are spent in repairs, rather than the feds.”

“If we don’t keep ahead of these drainage issues in the county, pretty soon the Feds won’t let us do anything drainage related,” Supervisor Ed Noonan told the group.

Opening the hearing for comments, landowners were split on the idea of annexation. Jack Garrelts noted that the issue with DD175 was the speed of the flow of water, and how any future work would only increase the flows, which would cause more damage to the banks.

Etler agreed with Garrelts, noting that in the future, if any improvements were done to Silver Creek, a good look would be taken at ways to slow the water flow, such as using steps or riffles.

“I’m thinking if you put everyone in, then when you want to do something, you would have too many people voting,” Doug Merrill commented. “I’d say just go with the second recommendation.”

Several other landowners and attendees echoed Merrill’s thoughts.

Palo Alto County Auditor Carmen Moser read each of the 13 written objections to the annexation that were filed, but no other objections were received.

As the discussion wound down, members of the Board of Supervisors offered their thoughts.

“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is really scary to me,” noted Supervisor Keith Wirtz. “As landowners, I’d think you’d want the annexation to spread the burden”

“As a landowner that would be affected, I’m not happy about it,” admitted Ed Noonan. “But, as a Supervisor, this is the thing to do. We’ve done this before in other districts.”

“Why was annexation never brought up before?” asked landowner Anesa McGregor

“No one ever signed a petition for it,” answered Noonan.

“I think this is the time to do this annexation,” agreed Supervisor Ron Graettinger.

“I lean towards the engineer’s recommendation,” Board Chair Linus Solberg said. “It seems like all the easy drainage questions are done and it’s the tough ones that are left. Something like this is a big decision when it affects people’s pocketbooks. It’s not easy.”

“It would seem that the objections are all of a similar camp, that they would see no benefit, but in reality, they all do in some way,” Etler added.

“Could the DD take over a private ditch inside the district, if the landowners wanted?” Solberg asked.

Etler answered that was a possibility if the landowners would request such action.

With no further comments, Graettinger moved to approve the annexation with Common Outlet assessments to adjoining districts. Wirtz offered a second and the motion to annex received unanimous approval to close the hearing.