No easy fixes for aging tile lines
WORTHINGTON -- A public information meeting regarding needed repairs on Judicial Ditch 11B drew several farmer-landowners to the Nobles County Board meeting Tuesday.
After nearly an hour of discussion, commissioners seemed to have more questions than answers regarding how systems are repaired or replaced and how benefiting property owners are assessed.
Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder said this particular ditch system is located in central Nobles County. A property owner on the system who had tiling done earlier this year discovered the county's 6-inch cement tile line to be in poor condition.
"It's in a fragile, crumbly state," Schnieder said.
While county staff has already repaired the segment of tile that was broken, Schnieder requested the public hearing to discuss replacement of the entire stretch of line that is in poor condition. Approximately 2,500 feet was proposed to be replaced at a cost of $9,000, with the potential to cost up to $15,000 if the old tile needs to be dug out. With $72,000 in the system account, the money is available to do the work, he added.
"In the past, we've gone out and fixed the tile when the problem shows up," Schnieder said. "With the amount of tile in the system and the aging system, it's really getting to the point that ... the appropriate thing to do when we find lines in this condition is to go out and get this replaced."
John Penning, of rural Wilmont, said he had contacted the county about the broken tile line.
"The tile is real crumbly, it's pretty much full of dirt," he said. "This branch seems to be junk. Every joint we crossed, we had to repair, and we did it at our cost."
Penning is concerned that if the tile continues to collapse, there will be problems down the road for other property owners served by the line.
The county owns and maintains approximately 45 miles of tile within its borders. Minnesota statute requires the county to ensure those tile lines remain functional.
Schnieder requested guidance from the board on making improvements to the lines in the future.
"One line is 100 years old, others are 80 to 90 years old," he said. "What are we going to do with these old systems? Do we fix holes or be more proactive and replace sections of tile line as they come up in a more deteriorated position?"
Schnieder said the county discussed "seven or eight years ago" replacing aging tile systems. Nothing was done then, and now the price has doubled.
He recommended replacing the entire 2,500 feet of tile line, but some farmers at the meeting weren't in support.
Greg Ponto, of rural Reading, said farmers should take responsibility for the tile that's on their own property.
"Heavier equipment was never perceived when this tile was put in," he said. "We're starting to crush this tile. I don't see why the neighbors or the county need to pay for that damage. From 12-inch down, I believe the farmer should be responsible for the price on his own property."
Tim Rogers, also of rural Reading, questioned the assessments paid in for maintenance on the line.
Schnieder said those assessments are collected just for this purpose -- to repair or replace lines that are no longer functioning.
"We will also be cleaning out the open ditch as part of this," he said. "It's a large system. We do repairs on it about every year."
Tom Feit was concerned about how tile line repairs will be handled in the future, especially considering the aging lines.
"There's going to need to be a lot of tile replaced," he said.
Schnieder replied that the county will do what can be afforded by the property owners.
"What is going to be the value of your land if it doesn't drain?" Schnieder asked. "People are being taxed, and they're going to want to have the tiles repaired because they're paying taxes on it.
"We know these tile lines aren't going to last forever," he added. "I don't have the answer; I just know it's going to be a big problem when it happens. Do we address it sooner or later? Do we just repair them and let someone else handle it down the road? In my mind, it would be better to keep them up as we go -- it would be more affordable. But, it's not my system."
Commissioner Marv Zylstra said that since the tile line was repaired and is functioning, he moved to deny the request to replace the 2,500 feet of line, with the county still repairing breaks as they occur; and to develop a comprehensive policy on how to handle county tile repairs in the future.
"I struggle with that idea, knowing we have a problem," Commissioner Matt Widboom added. "It's going to take us a long time to do a comprehensive evaluation of the entire system. We're ignoring the problem. We have to address this issue with our current policy, not wait to develop a new policy."
Widboom voted against the motion to deny the request to replace the line, and with Commissioner Gene Metz abstaining from the vote, the motion to deny the replacement of the tile line was approved.
In other action, the board:
* Tabled a request from Nobles County Assessor Joe Udermann to add two additional staff people to his department. The matter will be discussed at the Aug. 6 meeting, after commissioners have had an opportunity to look at the preliminary budget.
* Approved a temporary conditional use permit for Verlyn Timmer, Ellsworth, to operate and expand a feedlot in Grand Prairie Township that has a potential pollution hazard. The temporary permit gives Timmer the time needed to make the necessary repairs to the feedlot and bring it into compliance.
* Approved a conditional use permit for Crown Castle to replace a telecommunications tower west of Worthington along Nobles County State Aid Highway 35.
* Granted a conditional use permit giving Carol Pospisil until the end of this year to bring her property in the Ocheda Acres division in Bigelow Township into compliance. At this time, exterior storage on the property exceeds the performance standards for a residential area.
* Accepted a feedlot performance grant agreement that specifies Nobles County will receive an additional $6,602 this year for "going above and beyond the call of duty" with feedlot inspections. Nobles County Environmental Services Director Wayne Smith said this bonus money -- in addition to the $48,000 they received in March -- was the largest bonus ever received in the county.
* Received an annual update from Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water. After adding several thousand new members to the system in the last few years, LPRW is now in the process of adding Round Lake and Wilmont into the system. Also, the pumping station near Worthington is nearly complete. Once it's in operation, LPRW has the capacity to increase water supply for the city of Worthington.
* Denied a request from the Worthington Country Club to provide rock to riprap the edges of the golf course pond. Schnieder said that since the golf course is private property, he did not see it as the responsibility of the county or its taxpayers to pay for the rock.
* Approved a four-year agreement for election system and software for the Nobles County Auditor's office. The contract covers all maintenance and support for the system, at a cost of $14,108.51.
* Approved a labor agreement with LELS, representing the Sheriff's Department Licensed Essential Employees (deputies), which will continue through Dec. 31, 2014.
* Approved a professional services contract with Trusight to conduct a classification and compensation study for Nobles County employees. The work is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
* Approved a third-quarter appropriation of $7,589.25 to RSVP.
* Appointed Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson to the Emergency Management Planning Advisory Committee (EMPAC).