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Citizen cites concerns in Heron Lake Watershed District

Lloyd Kalfs asks Heron Lake Watershed District managers who will be doing water monitoring and carrying out the mission of the district in the absence of administrator, technician.

Heron Lake Watershed District S1.jpg

HERON LAKE — With the retirement of its administrator and the resignation of its technician, the Heron Lake Watershed District’s board of managers heard from a concerned resident during Friday’s meeting about continued efforts to monitor water quality in the district.

Lloyd Kalfs of Okabena, who once interned with the district, said he was worried the district’s initiatives — including cover crops, stream monitoring and water quality work — will fall behind or not get done this spring because of a lack of staffing.

“It’s the board’s responsibility to make sure those things get done — to make sure the mission of the Heron Lake Watershed District is completed,” Kalfs said.

He told managers that water sampling needs to be done after rain events.

“Is there a plan on who is to do that and how are we going to keep these conservation initiatives going?” Kalfs asked.

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HLWD Board Chairman Wayne Rasche said there have been discussions and the board is trying to figure out how to move forward.

Meanwhile, Board Treasurer Mark Bartosh said he has been in contact with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Board of Water and Soil Resources thus far about the district’s “nine key elements” that were to be worked on this year. He said the MPCA is suggesting the process on that plan should be delayed until the end of this year to give the board time to work through its staffing issues.

Bartosh told Kalfs that he would contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture next week to get more details on what needs to be done for stream monitoring. The work had previously been done by the watershed technician.

“Wayne and I have spent a lot of time in the office the last couple of weeks,” Bartosh said. “We’re trying our best to keep up with stuff.”

Drainage agreement with Jackson County

Managers unanimously approved a cooperative agreement with Jackson County on future management of drainage issues within the watershed district. It was noted that the watershed district will remain the designated drainage authority for Jackson County Judicial Ditch 3, as well as HLWD Projects 2, 4, 6, and 84-4A. Meanwhile, the district is to complete the pending improvement proceedings, while the county will retain drainage authority on Jackson County Ditch 3, JD 14, JD 19, JD 30, JD 31 and JD 36.

The nine-page agreement spells out the framework for a joint powers collaboration between the HLWD and the county, stating that the parties “desire to enter into this agreement to identify the parties’ roles and responsibilities in implementing future public drainage system management activities” and that the parties have “a common interest, within the limits of their statutory or delegated authorities, to avoid future conflict and uncertainty related to the management of public drainage systems….”

In other action, the board:

  • Received an update from ISG Engineering’s Chuck Brandel on ongoing ditch projects within the district. Brandel reported that the final engineer’s report on Judicial Ditch 3 has been completed and that the district should plan to schedule the hearing for sometime in June. He also noted that construction is nearly completed on the County Ditch 3 system, and he anticipates closing that project out mid- to later this year. For this system, managers approved sending letters to landowners to let them know of prepayment opportunities.

  • Was notified by Brandel of the increased costs for the Judicial Ditch 30 project, which was constructed in 2016 and 2017. Jackson County staff, along with landowners, discovered some sloughing of the ditch in 2018 and ISG attempted to go after the contractor to fix the problems.

“We thought it would be about 1,000 feet of repair and it turned into 4,000 feet of repair,” Brandel shared Friday, adding that about 2,000 feet had not been constructed correctly. Once that was discovered, ISG went back to the contractor, who by this time had gone out of business, and the bonding company who said it wasn’t responsible. Rather than take the contractor to court for what was initially an $8,050 job, Brandel said ISG and then-watershed administrator Jan Voit decided in early 2020 to make the necessary repairs.
The work ended up costing $58,212, of which ISG will pay $38,950. The remainder of the cost will need to be billed to landowners in the system.

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One manager expressed concern that the issue was not brought before the board earlier.

  • Set 2 p.m. April 7 for a close-out hearing on the Judicial Ditch 19 project.

  • Approved payment of the 2021 Minnesota Association of Watershed District dues with one manager in opposition.

“Sometimes I’m not sure I agree with everything they do at the state level,” Board Chairman Wayne Rasche said. “We have to decide if we get enough benefit for the amount of money.”

  • Approved a contract with Ann Goering to assist the district in updating the district’s personnel policy at a rate of $170 per hour. Bartosh said Goering estimated the work will be $2,000 to $2,500.

  • Appointed Bartosh to the district’s personnel committee.

  • Announced that anyone who would like notifications of HLWD monthly meetings, special meetings and emergency meetings must notify the district in writing within the next 60 days. Rasche said the request is being made because the HLWD doesn't know who was on the previous notification list. Anyone previously on the notification list must request to be included again.

  • Learned that an audit will be conducted on the watershed district due to the departure of the administrator. Bartosh said the audit was suggested by county commissioners anytime administrative personnel leave.

  • Discussed the district’s website. Bartosh said the website is online, but cannot be accessed by board members.

“The ability to access it left when the administrator retired,” Bartosh said. “Moving forward, we will probably need to find people that have website designing capabilities.”
Kalfs said the website was just updated a year ago, and it would be a “huge waste of taxpayer money” to start over with a new website.

The district’s only remaining employee, Davis Harder, reported that he has the password and noted that the administrator’s username and password can easily be changed. Harder was asked to assist the board in making the changes.

  • Did not address a job title or job description for a potential HLWD leadership position. It had been listed on the agenda as a discussion item.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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