Compromise sought over rain garden in right of way
DIAMOND LAKE -- A rain garden that was constructed this summer with the help of taxpayer-funded grants may be able to remain in a ditch on Breezy Point Road near Diamond Lake.
Last month the Harrison Township supervisors ordered Becky and DeWayne Ricklefs to remove the rain garden from the right of way and return the ditch to its previous condition by Sept. 26.
At their meeting Tuesday night, however, the supervisors reversed their decision -- with some stipulations. Final action on an agreement between the township and the Ricklefses will be taken Oct. 14.
Becky Ricklefs said she's pleased and hopes legal details can be finalized to allow the rain garden to stay.
Her neighbor Judy Olson, however, said it's "ridiculous" the rain garden is there at all.
Calling it a "compromise," Harrison Township chairman Peter Bratberg said the new action is the right thing to do, though he cautioned "it's not over."
The $8,234 rain garden was funded in part by the Middle Fork Crow River Watershed, the Clean Water Legacy Act and the Diamond Lake Recreation Association. Becky and DeWayne Ricklefs contributed more than $1,880 to the project, which was designed to retain rainwater and reduce sediments flowing to Diamond Lake. The lake north of Atwater is on the state's list of impaired waters.
Rain gardens are promoted by various agencies and are "an important method of reducing runoff pollution that fouls our local lakes," wrote David Moody, a Willmar attorney hired by the Ricklefses, in a letter to the township.
Although most of the rain garden is in the Ricklefses' yard, nearly half of the largest segment is located in the road right of way, which belongs to the township.
Bratberg said in an interview last week that the Ricklefses did not have permission to put anything there.
Becky Ricklefs, a seasonal resident from Iowa, said she wasn't aware of the right-of-way issue, or that township permission was needed, when she began the rain garden.
The township supervisors early on raised safety concerns if a vehicle ever left the roadway, and the Ricklefses then removed some large rocks and transplanted an ornamental tree. The board at that time still said the rain garden had to go.
That didn't make sense to Becky Ricklefs, who pointed out the existing manmade swale and water drainage easement that runs through her yard to Diamond Lake.
Chad Anderson, administrator of the Middle Fork Crow River Watershed, said the rain garden is "technically sound" and will address water quality by "intercepting and infiltrating storm water runoff."
Olson, however, said rainwater does not run down the right of way or through the rain garden. She said the rain garden is "not benefiting Diamond Lake" and used taxpayer money that could've been put to better use to help the lake.
Olson said the Ricklefses got a beautiful landscaping project out of the deal. "They're using the township land as their own."
Ricklefs said she and her husband thought putting in the rain garden would benefit the lake and they can't understand why anyone complained.
Olson said she wouldn't be allowed to put a vegetable garden in the right of way next to her house.
But Ricklefs said many residents up and down the road have rocks around culverts, gardens, fences and boulders next to mailboxes, all in the right of way. Because no one had complained about those properties, Ricklefs said last week, the township was not demanding those items be removed.
In his letter, Moody said if the township forced the Ricklefses to remove their rain garden, "it should be prepared to require that all of the other improvements on the right of way in the township also be destroyed." Moody asked the township to rescind their order for the Ricklefses to remove the rain garden.
In an interview this week, Bratberg said the township has now come up with a compromise that includes drawing up a permit agreement to allow the garden to remain and to provide liability protection for the township.
Ricklefs said the agreement will include a request for permission for the rain garden and will address maintenance and liability issues that will fall to the Ricklefses.
Moody will draft an agreement for the township to act on next month.
"I think what we did was right," Bratberg said.
Ricklefs said the issue also had a positive side effect: a commitment for increased communication among the agencies that have been involved in the matter.
Bratberg said the three-member township board, which includes two relatively new members, learned a lot during the process and hopes to have a better working relationship with the lake association and watershed district about what can be built where. "We've got things to work out, but we're going in the right direction," Bratberg said.
Anderson also said problems with the rain garden have helped the watershed district improve its procedures to make sure proper permits and permission are obtained prior to rain gardens being installed.
Olson, however, is still perturbed that the rain garden was installed "illegally" and the township could allow it to stay. "I just can't believe it," she said. "I guess you can do anything."