Watershed plan moves forward
HERON LAKE -- The Heron Lake Watershed District's Water Management Plan will advance to the state's Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) without any changes, despite numerous complaints aired in a public hearing in mid-October.
HLWD board members in their meeting Wednesday night considered two different amendments to the plan, but both died for lack of a second. As such, the original plan will move forward in the process.
Public controversy over the plan is directed at a proposed Wetland Management District (WMD).
The WMD would allow the watershed district to collect a per-parcel fee from land owners who directly contribute to flooding problems.
At this time, there is no specific WMD identified, and before the district can implement one it must host a public hearing, present specific information about proposed fees and how that money would be spent on flood control or improved water quality.
As discussion about the plan began, board chairman John Beardsley said it would move forward as written unless a board member moved to change it.
"We have gone through the process of the plan, had the hearing, and at this point, our options are to leave it as is, modify it or do away with it," he added.
"(The WMD) is non-functional whether it's inside the plan or not," said board member Gary Ewert. "Do you need to (amend it)?"
Having already spent more than $12,000 to write the 10-year plan, board member Jim Buschena was concerned that amending the plan would cost the district even more money.
Jeff Nielsen, one of two BWSR members at the meeting, said it wouldn't cost the district any more money, as the WMD portion was only in one chapter of the plan. However, he said any changes would mean beginning the hearing process all over again -- and that would take a minimum of six months to complete.
"If (the WMD) is in the plan and it isn't activated until after there's a hearing, we're just making more work for us," Buschena surmised.
Board member Dale Bartosh offered the first motion to amend the plan. He suggested eliminating the WMD portion -- a decision based on the public comments presented at the October hearing.
"I think flooding issues are on everybody's minds, but also on their minds is how to pay for it," Bartosh said. "When state and federal governments are in the situation they're in, people are asked to take more and more responsibility."
He reminded board members of his words a year ago, when they talked about seeking approval to raise the watershed district's levy, that with the current state of the economy, it was not a good time to ask for more money.
Fellow board member Mike McCarvel said he understood Bartosh's stance on not implementing a fee, but he also had "qualms about when is the right time.
"I want to see improvement in clean water," McCarvel said. While he acknowledged that about 90 percent of the 125 people in attendance at the October public hearing were opposed to the WMD, he said there are also "a lot of people from our watershed that are supportive of what we did that weren't at the meeting."
McCarvel didn't want the board to get into the position of rallying its supporters to show up every time there's a public hearing, but he also said he doesn't know how to get away from that.
"It comes to a situation of a stalemate -- a gridlock," McCarvel said. "I've felt that we made some good progress. We've got to have drainage or we're sunk.
"I'm stubborn enough to say we've got to do something," he added.
Mark Bartosh, one of about 20 people in attendance at Wednesday night's meeting, asked how the public was to trust the board if it went ahead with the WMD plan after hearing the sentiment expressed at the Oct. 13 meeting.
"Tonight it would look like you weren't listening," he said. "How could we trust that you would listen in the future?"
When Dale Bartosh's motion to eliminate the WMD from the plan failed for lack of a second, Beardsley asked if lowering the maximum allowable to be raised by the WMD from $200,000 to $50,000 would show some flexibility. Ultimately, he presented a motion to set the maximum at $50,000, which also failed to reach the floor for a vote.
"People want to know where it's going to be spent before they approve it," responded Dale Bartosh. "I would not be in favor of a compromise."
When Mark Bartosh then asked if the implementation of the plan could be tabled for a year, HLWD Administrator Jan Voit said the district's plan has already expired.
"The fact that your plan is expired now would mean that you're not eligible for access to Clean Water (Land and Legacy) funds," said BWSR board member Steve Woods. "That's a base eligibility requirement."
The HLWD has applied for a $200,000 legacy grant, and had hoped to hear results of that request in December.
Voit said the district will continue to pursue grant dollars, but she said most grants require match dollars from the watershed district.
"We are making good use of our money and putting projects on the ground as much as we can," Voit said. "Education is really the key. If people don't understand there's a problem out there, they're not going to change. We work on that a lot."
Watershed technician Ross Behrends said that with nearly 1 million feet of tile installed within the district this year, flooding issues are only going to multiply.
"I'm not saying tiling is the devil, but it ultimately is going to result in more water coming down the line," said Behrends, adding that it takes money to do the up-front work -- permitting and engineering -- to implement projects that mitigate flooding.
"It isn't like we haven't been working on flood control," Voit added. "We just have never had the money ... for a big flood-control project."
Voit said the HLWD will host an open house from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 28 at the Heron Lake Community Center. During the open house, people can stop in and ask questions regarding the potential costs of the WMD.
As for the watershed's management plan, she said BWSR will complete a final review and take action on the plan in January or February.