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Ditch Authority conducts preliminary hearings on JD9, JD13 improvements

WORTHINGTON -- It was standing-room only inside the Nobles County Board Room Tuesday afternoon as commissioners from Jackson and Nobles County convened a public hearing to address engineer findings on requested improvements on two judicial ditches.

WORTHINGTON -- It was standing-room only inside the Nobles County Board Room Tuesday afternoon as commissioners from Jackson and Nobles County convened a public hearing to address engineer findings on requested improvements on two judicial ditches.

Numerous landowner meetings were conducted to discuss flooding issues and broken tile lines on Judicial Ditch 9 and Judicial Ditch 13, and on Tuesday, Chuck Brandel of I+S Group presented his preliminary report of each of the ditch systems and their need for improvements.

Because the ditch systems cross between Nobles and Jackson counties, a joint ditch authority comprised of commissioners from each county led the meeting.

Nobles County’s legal counsel on drainage issues, Kurt Deter, explained that the process for making improvements to a ditch system requires a landowner petition, engineer assessment, public hearings and ultimately a redetermination of benefits of the ditch system prior to making any improvements to the system.

Petitions had been presented by landowners on both judicial ditches, and Brandel said Tuesday that after gathering all of the data on the more-than-100-year-old ditch systems, both require significant work to function properly.

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Both JD9 and JD13 are considered large systems. JD9 has nearly four miles of open ditch and 30 miles of tile lines draining 6,700 acres. The JD9 system has a 38-inch outlet that dumps into JD 13, which is comprised of nine miles of open ditch and 67 miles of tile that drains nearly 17,000 acres of land.

Brandel noted in his engineering report that JD9 is about 10 times undersized, trying to push overland flow through 38- and 48-inch tile. Among the improvements proposed on the system are upgrading the main to a 60-inch tile, adding a new culvert, deepening portions of the ditch and cleaning out the entire length of the open ditch. The estimated landowner cost for the project is nearly $4 million, though a redetermination of benefits is needed to to calculate just how much each landowner will pay for the improvements.

“It’s sort of like buying a car without knowing what your share of the cost is going to be,” Deter said. “If the project gets established, all of the costs are rolled into the (ditch) assessments.”

Included in the engineer’s preliminary estimate are payments to landowners for any permanent or temporary damage resulting from improving the system. Brandel also said he will continue to apply for grant dollars to help fund the improvements.

“The project, in my opinion, is very cost-effective because you’ve got a system well over 100 years old,” he said. “We could probably find a point every 30 feet where it’s not working properly.”

Brandel said the designed improvements are meant to take water away within 48 hours.

“Because of some of the failing pipe and the undersized system, there’s a necessity for the improvements,” he added.

Ultimately, the joint ditch authority agreed. In unanimous voting, it approved the preliminary engineer’s report, moved to proceed with redetermination of benefits and ordered the engineer to do a final engineer’s report. It also appointed I Ron Renquist as lead viewer on the JD9 project.

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Like JD9, Brandel noted that JD13 is very undersized, particularly at the Jackson-Nobles county line, where there is just a 26-inch tile in place.

While noting the open ditch in the eastern portion of the system is adequate, the open ditch on the western side is “very undersized,” Brandel said.

Due to flooding issues that already exist downstream, his engineering report calls for the addition of three water holding ponds along JD13. Additional improvements include increased tile size, deepening and increasing the size of two culverts and widening and deepening the ditch in certain areas of the system.

Total landowner cost is estimated at nearly $14 million. The water holding ponds alone are estimated at $2.4 million.

One attendee, Vince Bock, asked if the storage basins are a key component of the project. He wanted to know if the project could move forward without them.

“From what I hear, if the storage isn’t there, the outlet is not adequate,” Deter responded.

Meanwhile, Dave Fischer of Sioux Valley said, “I think for this project to go forward, it needs the three catch basins. We cannot handle any more water going downstream. We have narrow creeks. We got roads that get water over them right now. I believe we need them three catch basins no matter what.”

Following public testimony, the joint ditch authority approved the preliminary engineer’s report, moved to proceed with redetermination of benefits, ordered the engineer to do a final engineer’s report and appointed Renquist as lead viewer on the JD13 project. All of the votes were unanimous.

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Deter offered a timeline on both judicial ditches, saying that viewers likely will not be onsite until fall, with final reports being completed next winter at the earliest.

“Prior to that you’ll get a viewer’s report showing what the benefits are and how much. There will then be a final hearing to ask any questions,” he said.

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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