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This file photo taken in June shows the culvert Kenneth Meyerdirk allegedly replaced at a greater depth to increase water flow off his property. The work was done in violation of Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District rules. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

Culvert dispute avoids court

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WORTHINGTON — The Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District board has opted not to pursue legal action against a rural Worthington farmer who allegedly violated watershed rules by replacing a culvert and changing the flow rate of water off his agricultural land.

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OOWD Administrator Dan Livdahl reported to the board Tuesday that more than $1,000 had been spent in legal fees, and it was determined there wasn’t enough documentation for the district to prove wrongdoing in either a criminal or a civil case against landowner Kenneth Meyerdirk.

Meyerdirk had requested permission from the watershed board in the summer of 2012 to create a farmable waterway and lower a culvert under Sundberg Avenue. Shortly thereafter, in August 2012, the watershed responded to Meyerdirk’s request with a written letter stating he could not move forward with the project.

The letter cited watershed rules, which prohibit “replacement of culverts under public roads or private driveways with culverts … (of) greater or lesser flow capacity, unless required for a conservation practice project meeting Natural Resources Conservation Services standards and specifications, or required for a project designed by a licensed engineer for flood water storage, or required for a project designed by a licensed engineer to comply with state standards and specifications for protection of existing structures or public safety.”

After an anonymous complaint was received by the watershed district in April, alleging that Meyerdirk went ahead with the project, the watershed district investigated and determined rules were violated. At a meeting between Meyerdirk and Livdahl in early June, Meyerdirk said he wasn’t aware of any breach of rules. He also said he never received a letter from the OOWD denying his request to complete the project. At that time, he said the project was completed in the fall of 2012, after getting approval from the Indian Lake Township board.

One of the issues leading to the decision not to pursue legal action is that that watershed district failed to send out the notice of denial by certified mail. With Meyerdirk saying he didn’t receive the notice, there’s no proof that a letter was ever mailed.

The second reason the district chose not to pursue legal action pertained to the lack of records. While Livdahl estimated the culvert had been lowered by 12 to 18 inches, there was no documentation, such as a soil survey, in the county’s possession.

“If someone were to apply for a permit to lower a culvert, as Ken did, and we went out and set a benchmark of the culvert at that time, we would have at least had something,” Livdahl said Tuesday. “We didn’t do that.”

“When someone wants to do something like this, we should document it so we have a record,” said board chairman Les Johnson.

With little proof to pursue a legal battle, the board decided to let this particular case drop and go back to the watershed’s rules to “figure out how to make our rules better in case this occurs again,” Livdahl suggested. In the future, all denials for permits will be sent by certified mail to provide the district with proof the notice was delivered.

In other business, the board:

- Discussed last week’s fish netting on Lake Bella by Scott Deslauriers. More than 40,000 pounds of buffalo fish and 9,000 pounds of carp were harvested in one pull from the lake by the commercial fisherman, and a second pull was conducted later in the week. If weather cooperates, Deslauriers will be back in Nobles County this month to net rough fish from Lake Ocheda.

- Discussed goals for 2014, including bringing the Lake Ocheda Landowners Group together to discuss lake health and improving watershed district rules to make them more enforceable.

- Learned that a riprap project around the Lake Bella dam was completed this fall at a cost of $2,665 — slightly less than the $3,000 budgeted for the project.

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Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at www.farmbleat.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7330
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