Ditch maintenance questions prompted a lengthy discussion and eventual scheduling of a public hearing during the Meeker County Board meeting June 1.
The board, acting as the Ditch Authority, voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing for a landowner’s request to have property removed from County Ditch 35.
The petition for removal came from Bert Herzog and Sharon Pingree for 54.15 acres of property located in Darwin Township, which represents about 3.76 percent of the Ditch 35 system. Their petition said that the land does not benefit from the county system, the old drainage tile has not worked for many years, and that overland water does not drain toward Ditch 35.
Commissioners acknowledged the right to petition, but some questioned the appropriateness of the request. If approved, the property would be removed from the Ditch 35 “benefits role” and would not be assessed for costs of repairs or inspection of the system. The landowner also would not be allowed to make improvements to put the property back into the Ditch 35 system without petitioning the county for reinstatement..
District 5 Commissioner Steve Schmitt likened the petition to a property taxpayer who objects to the school district portion of their taxes because they no longer have children in the district.
“Everybody’s water goes somewhere … that’s the way it is,” Schmitt said. “I find this an odd situation that we would remove a property from a drainage system. Your water still ends up in a lake somewhere, and it has a drainage system to get there.”
He said that such requests leave commissioners “picking and choosing who’s going to participate in a drainage system and who isn’t.”
County Auditor Barb Loch suggested that commissioners use reviewers who are currently looking at County Ditch 17 and 19 systems to view the land in the petition.
Commissioners didn’t oppose that idea, but they wanted to make sure the cost of a review was borne by the petitioner.
“They would have to encumber the costs … on their own dime,” Board Chair Julie Bredeson of District 2 said. “I don’t think we need to incur the costs of a private landowner request.”
Kale Van Bruggen, an attorney with Rinke Noonan law office who is consulting with the county on the ditch systems, suggested that “to keep things moving as efficient and least costly as possible,” the County Board set a public hearing for six weeks out, while sending a letter to Herzog acknowledging his petition. The letter also will state the landowner bears the burden of proving three criteria – that water from the property has been diverted from Ditch 35 or the property cannot use the ditch as an outlet, the property has not benefitted from the drainage system, and that removing the property from the system won’t negatively impact other property owners on the system.
Commissioners approved the resolution allowing the petition to move forward and setting the public hearing for Tuesday, Aug. 3.
In other ditch action:
The County Board, acting as the Ditch Authority, approved two resolutions appointing viewers for County Ditch 17 and 19 as part of initiating the redetermination of benefits and damages for the two systems.