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Public Should Know ‘The Rest Of The Story’

By Staff | Jul 28, 2011

Supervisors’ Resolution is Reasonable – The USDA’s CRP?Rule is Not!

In response to the Palo Alto SWCD?Commissioners’ letter opposing the Board of Supervisors’ resolution which bans the further placement of CRP near drainage district facilities, the public should know the rest of the story.

Palo Alto County and all its neighboring counties have long endorsed the placement of buffers on drainage district open ditches and they all would continue to do so if the USDA had not reneged on a commitment made to the Iowa Drainage District Association (IDDA) in 1998 that allowed landowners with the CRP?buffers to avoid program penalties when drainage districts conducted maintenance activities

The USDA?now holds forth that it will strictly enforce a CRP contract provision that prohibits all motorized vehicle disturbances during the primary nesting season which in Iowa is May 15 through August 1. The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) will no longer grant landowners waivers from the CRP program rules in that period. That covers and essentially eliminates half of the normal construction season in Iowa! Trying to avoid the nesting season increases drainage district costs as contractors are forced to bid higher in the abbreviated construction season and damages are increased over the longer construction period. (One alternate bid test in Palo Alto County Drainage District No. 48 put that cost at more than $20,000 per mile of open ditch repair.)

If?CRP buffers are disturbed during the nesting season, the penalty to the landowner is the required refund of all past CRP?payments plus accrued interest on those payments. For the typical CRP contract the landowner faces a penalty well in excess of $10,000. That circumstance puts the CRP landowner in a potentially adversarial position with the board of supervisors who are mandated to keep drainage district facilities in good repair.

What then is the board of supervisors to do? Do they assess other landowners in the district to help the buffer owners pay their penalties or do they carry out their mandate and ignore the huge penalties that the FSA will bring upon unsuspecting buffer strip owners??There are so many buffers on drainage ditches in the area that a major open ditch repair project would typically generate buffer strip disturbance penalties totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Several area counties have adopted the same resolution banning CRP near drainage district facilities. The resolution states that it will remain in effect until the USDA?FSA returns to the common sense practice that was implemented in 1998. A copy of that 1998 USDA?decision is affixed to the resolution.

The opportunity to sustain the continued presence of CRP?buffers on drainage district open ditches is in the hands of the USDA regulators. They have the authority to change the rules. If they stubbornly refuse, many hundreds of miles of buffer strips will eventually disappear from the northern Iowa landscape. No one, including every member of the board of supervisors, cares to see that happen. But it is clear that the rightful focus for the Palo Alto SWCD Commission’s criticism is across the hall to its sister USDA?agency – the Farm Service Agency – and to our Congressional representatives.

Sincerely yours,

Palo Alto County

Board of Supervisors

(signed)?Keith Wirtz

Ed Noonan, Leo Goeders,

Ron Graettinger, Jerry Hofstad