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Drainage issue unresolved

WORTHINGTON -- The Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District may find itself in a legal battle over what it considers to be a violation of watershed rules in Sections 8 and 9 of Indian Lake Township.

It was little more than a month ago when the OOWD notified landowner Kenneth Meyerdirk that the work he'd done to alter drainage on his land -- primarily replacing and lowering a culvert under a township road -- would need to be restored to its original condition.

Meyerdirk has since hired attorney Kale Van Bruggen, of Rinke Noonan law firm at St. Cloud, who responded to the watershed district's request with a letter stating his client has done nothing wrong. Van Bruggen said the "project was not subject to the Watershed District's jurisdiction under their permitting rules and regulations and therefore, no permit was required for his activities."

The three-page letter goes on to say the watershed district failed to notify Meyerdirk that his permit application was denied within the 60-day requirement; and that because the new culvert is the same size as the one it replaced, there were no violations of watershed rules.

OOWD Administrator Dan Livdahl acknowledged during a board meeting Tuesday that he should have sent the notice by registered mail to Meyerdirk so he would have proof the letter was sent.

"This is the first time in 20-some years that we've told someone they couldn't do something and they did it anyway," Livdahl told the OOWD board.

He contends that while the culvert may be the same size, it was put in at a lower elevation, thereby causing water to flow faster off of Meyerdirk's land.

"Our rules say you can't install a culvert with greater or lesser capacity ... without NRCS design," Livdahl explained. "The whole purpose of lowering the culvert was to increase the capacity."

Without a soil survey conducted on the site before the work was done, and due to a lack of information on original elevations in Nobles County's public works department, Livdahl said the original elevations of the culvert could be estimated "pretty well." He estimates the culvert was lowered by 12 to 18 inches.

OOWD board member Rolf Mahlberg said the watershed rules were written to be farmer-friendly. The district's intent was not to have people alter the location of culverts because of the potential to flood a neighbor's land.

In an attempt to find a compromise, the board opted to draft another letter to Meyerdirk and his attorney, requesting installation of a Weir structure, which would raise the culvert to its previous height and be a low-cost alternative to tearing up the township road again.

"I think the ultimate end of this is we will be sitting down with (Meyerdirk) and coming up with a compromise without going to court," Livdahl said.

Still, the board recommended seeking legal guidance if Meyerdirk doesn't comply with the request to install the Weir structure.

Board member Jay Milbrandt preferred it wouldn't go that route.

"It's cheaper for (Meyerdirk) not to retain an attorney ... and resolve it," Milbrandt said. "We've stood our ground. If we hire an attorney, does it seem like we're bringing out the swords and things? I'm cautious at what other people see and what it's perceived at."

"We're in between a rock and a hard spot. If we see that he has broken this rule and we let him get away with it, then pretty soon your rules (don't work)," added OOWD board president Les Johnson.

Milbrandt said if the Weir structure offers a solution, Meyerdirk wouldn't be "getting away" with anything.

The board's action was to pursue a compromise with Meyerdirk that would include a Weir structure, with the height to be determined by the OOWD board president and the Indian Lake Township board president. If a compromise cannot be reached, the OOWD will retain an attorney to deal with the issue.

In other business, the board:

- Discussed further the potential for a recreational trail at the Lake Bella Park. Livdahl said he had walked the site and developed a map of a possible rustic trail that could be used for walking and bicycling. The idea was presented a month ago by Milbrandt, who had recently visited the park for the first time.

Livdahl said there would be areas of the trail where simple plank bridges would need to be constructed to smooth out the path, and those would cost approximately $200 each. Other costs would include seasonal mowing of the trail.

Potential issues with liability were discussed Tuesday. Livdahl offered to check with the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust about the added cost of insurance if a trail was developed on the property.

Johnson encouraged the board to research the trail plan further before making a decision.

"I think the use on this would be so slight," he said, adding that a trail would take more space away from wildlife.

"I like that we have an area where wildlife are relatively undisturbed," he added. "If we can protect the environment, enhance the water, protect wildlife habitat and create recreational opportunity with very little expenditure, that would be my goal."

Milbrandt said his suggestion for a trail was made in hopes of getting more people out to Lake Bella Park to see the beautiful area.

"Do we want to promote more use out there and, if we want to do that, could we have a trail?" Milbrandt asked his fellow board members. "Would it be a draw to the region to have this?"

Mahlberg said the discussion was "food for thought," and board members would need to evaluate the potential further.

- Received an update on the Bioverse products being tested on the Glenwood Heights stormwater pond. Livdahl said the company has been gathering dissolved oxygen readings twice per week, and the water had been looking clear. Recent rains, however, carried corn stalks into the pond. It was noted on Tuesday that filamentous algae is visible around the edges of the pond. The algae is also visible in Whiskey Ditch.

- Approved a permit request from Mike Kuhle, Worthington, to install shoreline riprap on his property along Lake Okabena.

- Discussed the potential for the Department of Natural Resources to stock fish in the new E.O. Olson Regional Stormwater Pond on the Minnesota West campus. The DNR is willing to stock panfish in the pond, but it likely wouldn't be done until next spring. The public is urged not to release fish into the pond, due to the threat of invasive species.

- Approved a request from Shirley Dykstra to hay the grass on the east and west side of the stream south of the Lake Ocheda dam, with the stipulation that the grass not be cut until after July 20.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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