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Kandiyohi Co. property owners approve of ditch benefit review

Bob Anderson, left, and Larry Larson discuss a ditch system map handed out Wednesday during a meeting at the Health and Human Services building in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- After hearing about the need for the process, and details about how the process would be conducted, property owners agreed Wednesday that a redetermination of benefits should proceed on county ditch systems 26 and 23A.

The recommendation will now be taken to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners for its approval.

"I will make that recommendation based on what I heard here today," said Loren Engelby, Kandiyohi County drainage inspector.

"These are your ditch systems," Engelby told the 25 or so property owners in attendance. "It's your decision."

The County Commissioners, who have made a commitment to do a redetermination of benefits of all 106 public county ditch systems, are expected to approve the process and hire ditch viewers.

The complicated process could take 1½ to 2 years to complete before a final public hearing is held.

The end result will be increased "fairness and equity" in which property owners are assessed, and how much they are assessed, for maintaining ditch systems that benefit their land, said Commissioner Harlan Madsen.

In explaining the need for a redetermination of benefits, Engelby said most of the county's drainage ditches were constructed in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Property owners have been paying a percentage of the ditch upkeep based on the ditch benefits that have been on the books for more than 100 years.

During that time, farming practices have changed, drainage ditches have expanded and the benefits to landowners have increased, said Ron Ringquist, a professional ditch viewer who is currently evaluating six other ditch systems in the county. Ringquist operates an appraisal service in Redwood Falls.

He said the current roster of assessed property owners may not accurately reflect actual benefits.

Engelby said there are some property owners who have been receiving the benefits for years but they have never paid to maintain the ditch system because they were not on the original list of ditch owners.

Commissioner Dennis Peterson said that's the case with Ditch 26, located in Irving Township. He said there are new landowners whose land is being drained but they have never paid a penny in assessments for those benefits.

Much of Ditch 23A is located in Willmar on land that had been farmed in the past but is now developed for homes and businesses. The existing benefits reflect the old usage of the land.

The only way to make changes is to undertake a formal redetermination of benefits.

A number of tools are used in the process, Ringquist said, including using soil and aerial maps, considering revenue the land generates and viewing acres of farmland to see how it is used today and imagine what it was like before drainage was available.

Madsen said 10 years ago he opposed initiating a county-wide effort to conduct a redetermination of benefits because of the cost of the process, which is passed onto property owners.

But he said changes in technology, including GPS, have reduced the cost. Madsen said he intends to support the redetermination of benefits of ditches.

The county does not pay anything to maintain drainage ditches and will not pay for the redetermination of benefits. All costs associated with ditches are charged back to the owners of a specific ditch. Likewise, ditch assessments are not used for any expenses other than for a specific ditch.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750