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Petitioners not heard in Hawk Creek decision over 2 bridges

MONTEVIDEO -- Members of the ditch authority for Hawk Creek voted 3-1 Tuesday not to hear a petition asking them to reconsider their Nov. 14, 2007, decision to replace two bridges in Lone Tree Township with box culvert sets.

Residents of the township located upstream of Clara City packed the assembly room in hopes that the ditch authority would reopen the issue and hold a hearing.

The residents are asking that larger culverts be installed than those approved nearly 1½ years ago, but not yet purchased.

The residents had previously presented a petition with 76 signatures asking the ditch authority to reopen the matter. They also presented a private engineering analysis that recommends installing larger culverts.

But ditch authority member Jim Dahlvang, a Chippewa County Commissioner, said the analysis did not provide any new information. He also said that it would be just as easy to collect signatures for a petition from residents in Clara City and points downstream in opposition to larger culverts. Installing two culvert sets based on designs to discharge at greater standards than found elsewhere in the system would increase costs and possibly increase the flood risk for downstream landowners.

Attorney John Kolb of St. Cloud, representing the Lone Tree residents, said after the meeting that an analysis by an engineer for the residents found that the culvert sets approved by the ditch authority would not match the flow capacity of the ditch itself.

Engineer Chad Grismer of Westwood Professional Services, Eden Prairie, recommended that each of the culvert sets approved by the ditch authority be increased by one size.

Grismer warned that the ditch authority's culvert configurations would obstruct the ditch and cause a one-half foot increase in water elevation upstream during high-flow periods.

Township residents are concerned about the possibility of flooding not only from spring melt and rain events, but also from ice jams. They believe that the continuous flow from the Willmar wastewater treatment plant causes ice to form in layers and increases the risks for ice jams.

The Westwood engineer's proposal for larger-sized culverts at the two sites would cost an estimated $458,291, or nearly $54,809 more than the estimated cost of $403,482 for the smaller-sized culverts proposed by the ditch authority's engineer, Peter Sarberg of Widseth, Smith, Nolting & Associates of Alexandria.

In a letter to the ditch authority, Sarberg said that his original recommendation is based on state design standards for handling flows expected in a 25-year rain event. He indicated that the recommendation by the township residents' engineer was designed for a 100-year rain event.

However, a recent letter from Sarberg to the ditch authority also noted that the approved culverts would reduce the hydraulic capacity of the ditch as compared to the present capacity with the bridges. "Reasonable, alternative configurations exist which would maintain exiting ditch hydrology,'' he stated.

This led ditch authority member Dean Shuck, a Kandiyohi County Commissioner, to charge that the engineer had made a "180-degree'' turn from 2007. He cast the lone vote against not hearing the petition.

Prior to the motion, Chippewa County attorney Dwayne Knutsen told the authority members that their decision in 2007 was essentially an order for repair to the system. As such, he does not believe it can be appealed.

However, Kolb said after the meeting that township residents are considering the possibility of bringing the matter to court.

The two bridges are slated for replacement in 2010, but there is the possibility that federal stimulus funding could move up the replacement schedule.