WILLMAR -- On a 4-0 vote Tuesday the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners agreed to allow a Meeker County landowner access to a county drainage ditch, despite opposition from a number of Kandiyohi County residents who have paid to maintain and improve the Ditch 52 system for decades.
Kandiyohi County Commissioner Harlan Madsen, who owns land in the Ditch 52 system, abstained from the discussion and vote and did not publicly state his support or opposition to the request, even though as a landowner he had that right.
Stephen Torvik, an attorney representing the Lake Lillian families who opposed granting the outlet, said the process is not yet over and that an appeal is possible.
Last October Mike Lux, who farms just across the southern Kandiyohi County line in Meeker County, requested an outlet into Ditch 52 for water that's drained from his farmland.
A small private ditch currently carries water from the Lux farm into Ditch 52, even though he has never been assessed for benefits. He is proposing to widen and deepen the private ditch to make it a public ditch with a legal outlet that would require an outlet fee and assessments.
At that time, Mark Hansel, an engineer with Bolton & Menk of Willmar, who was hired by Lux, indicated the outlet could handle the flow and that it was the least-costly option for Lux to route the water.
At the request of opposition landowners, the county agreed last year that an independent engineer be hired to present a separate opinion on the condition the county would not pay for the second study.
On Tuesday, Chuck Brandel, a civil engineer from I & S Group from Mankato, said his analysis supports Bolton & Menk's report that the Ditch 52 outlet can handle the extra flow.
In his report, Brandel said he agrees there would be "minimal impact at the outlet" and that the outlet was "adequate" to handle the additional water.
Several people testified Tuesday in opposition to the outlet, saying the system was already overloaded and fields already flood and that having more water dumped into the drainage ditch would harm their fields.
Duane Anderson, of Lake Lillian, showed photos of flooded fields and a ditch full of storm water.
He asked how engineers could determine the outlet would be adequate "when we're sitting under water."
Anderson asked the commissioners to deny the request. "You're supposed to look out for the people of the ditch system."
Johanna Anderson said the Luxes have been "illegally" draining their water into Ditch 52 at the expense of those in the system who have paid to keep it up.
Jeff Braegelmann, an attorney for the petitioners, said the Luxes are asking to do what's proper and legal by asking for an outlet to the ditch.
Braegelmann said there can never be a ditch system designed to prevent all flooding, but said with two engineers' reports coming to the same conclusion on the outlet, he said it was the commissioners' "duty" to approve the request.
Then the Luxes can pay their share of the expenses to the ditch system, he said.
Torvik said the independent engineer should have been given authority to look at not only the outlet, but also the effect to other landowners and other options for Lux.
Commissioner Dean Shuck said it was hard to deny a request when two engineers said the plan would work.
"I can see no legitimate reason to deny it," said Commissioner Dennis Peterson.
After approving the request, the commissioners set the outlet fee at $14,000.
The ditch benefits will be determined by a joint ditch authority between Kandiyohi and Meeker County.
After the hearing was closed, Madsen said this issue has been "controversial and emotional. Ditches are always tough."
He said he respected people on both sides of the issue. "There are not winners or losers today. There are people who walked through a process."
He said some were happy with the outcome and others were not.
Madsen said the most difficult part of the process for him was to "stay quiet for a year," adding, "That is not my nature."