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K-LR watershed board delays ditch improvement talks

ADRIAN — After a nearly three-hour-long public hearing Monday night, which included an engineer’s report and comments from two attorneys and more than half a dozen landowners, the Kanaranzi-Little Rock Watershed Board moved to delay discussion regarding a request to improve Judicial Ditch 11 until a time when its own attorney can be present.

0 Talk about it

“We’re not up here whispering because we want to keep something from you,” said K-LR board member Jerry Brake. “We don’t know what in the hell we’re doing.”

Citing frustrations because the attorney for the watershed board wasn’t present, Brake said he didn’t want to see more money spent on an issue the board doesn’t fully understand.

“We hired an attorney to be here for this kind of thing and he’s not here,” he added.

At issue is a request by John, Richard and Tom Penning, along with a few other landowners, to improve an approximately three-mile-long drainage system that spans six sections of land in Summit Lake Township, beginning at a point two miles northwest of Reading and crossing Nobles County 25 as it flows to the southwest and into open ditch 11B. The Pennings filed the request for improvements in April.

Duane Hansel, an engineer with Bolton & Menk, said the county tile was constructed in 1912 and no longer provides adequate drainage following rain events. In his report, he said the main line — as well as branches A, C and E — would need to be replaced.

He proposed an increase in the main tile line from 8 inches to 12 inches at the upper end, with an increase from 24 inches to 30 inches at the outlet. Branch lines would also increase in size, with Branch A going from 6- to 8-inch tile; Branch C increasing from 6 inches to 10 inches, with tie-ins to the main increasing from 12-inch to 24-inch tile; and Branch E expanding from its present 6- to 8-inch line to an outlet with 12-inch tile.

Hansel said a modern drainage system should be able to remove one-half inch of water per day from the watershed. The existing system, however, is functioning at about one-sixteenth of an inch per day.

“Our limitation is in the main,” he said. “It’s way below what a modern day system should drain. It isn’t draining as it should, and it results in ponding in the drainage system.”

The new lines, Hansel said, would generally parallel the existing tile at a slightly deeper depth. Also, the proposed improvement would consist of dual-wall polyethylene, non-perforated tile.

“If you were to keep that old system, it would need to be repaired soon,” Hansel said. Repairs alone would amount to $474,440.51.

“Rather than put that money into the existing system, let’s use that repair money to pay for a portion of the new system,” Hansel added.

If the K-LR board chooses not to improve the ditch system, Hansel said there are a few alternative solutions —to do nothing; provide 240 acres of restored wetland to address drainage; or to create an open ditch, which may be slightly cheaper but take more land out of production.

“It’s important this system be maintained, both for yourself, your children and your heirs,” Hansel said, adding his request to the K-LR Board to appoint viewers to determine benefits for the system.

The estimated cost for the new system is $831,183.15. That amount, with interest, would be assessed to all of the benefitting property owners served by the ditch system. Many of those property owners were at Monday night’s meeting to speak out against the improvements.

Represented by attorney Daniel Lundquist, of Frundt & Johnson LTD, Blue Earth, members of the landowner group said they didn’t think they should have to pay for improvements that will benefit one landowner — the Pennings.

“Tonight is the night to stop this process before any more costs have occurred,” Lundquist told the K-LR board. “Only 26 percent of the landowners need to join in entering this petition, and they’ve got it.”

Lundquist said the proposed improvements are not improvements, but the making of a new ditch system.

“It’s a ditch benefitting the petitioners, and the cost is bore on neighboring landowners,” he said. “This is a new ditch and not an improvement, and for that reason, this should be dismissed at this time.”

Lundquist said the existing system already creates flooding at the outlet from Judicial Ditch 11 to Judicial Ditch 11B, in the Bluebird Prairie State Wildlife Area.

“The lower land is going to get dumped on,” he said. “Any benefits to this upper land are going to be more detrimental to this lower land.”

Lundquist urged the watershed board to take cameras into the existing tile line to see how the line is holding up and if there are any breaks or plugs.

“The water is still running out of that tile and into the open ditch,” he said. “If it was broke, that probably wouldn’t be happening.”

Tom Sieve was one of seven landowners who commented during the hour of public testimony taken Monday night. He said the entire system goes through land he farms so “it’s a big deal to me.” At this time, Sieve said he has very little tile on his land, but the improvements would mean a lot of extra bills.

 “The benefit that we’re going to have from this is not there,” added Don Sieve, saying the assessment isn’t right. “I don’t need it. I don’t need a pipe going through my land. If the Penning family wants to tile — tile and pay for it.”

Other landowners questioned the engineer’s report, wondering if consideration was given to downstream flooding that already exists, if the project addressed the presence of Topeka Shiner (Hansel said he wasn’t aware of that issue) and how benefitting property owners would be determined.

K-LR board member Colleen Gruis asked if Hansel could answer some of these questions if the hearing was continued. He said he could, although it would cost an estimated $5,000 to $10,000 more.

Gruis then moved to continue the hearing until such time as Hansel could answer those questions. Her motion, however, died for lack of a second.

After further discussion among board members and a couple of motions, it was then decided to rescind those motions and delay a decision on the petitioner’s request for tile improvement until the K-LR board’s attorney could be present to help answer questions.

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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