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Drainage dispute pushes Renville County to ditch redetermination process

OLIVIA -- A dispute between neighboring landowners over drainage may push Renville County closer to launching a systematic redetermination of ditch benefits.

Members of the Renville County Board of Commissioners indicated at their work session Tuesday in Olivia that they will host a public meeting on the county's ditch systems at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Renville County Office Building, Olivia.

The discussion came as one the state's leading attorneys for drainage law, Kurt Deters of St. Cloud, recommended that the county launch a redetermination of benefits for the ditch at the center of a dispute between neighboring landowners.

Steven Wick and Brad Wick asked the commissioners to order that a tile outlet installed by Richard Kurth in 2009 in Boon Lake Township be blocked. They allege that Kurth added tiling in 2009 that crossed a sub-watershed to carry water to County Ditch 132 without a permit to do so.

The added water adversely affects the drainage of their farmlands. The Wicks told the commissioners that they had contacted the county ditch inspector and county attorney at the time the tile was being installed. Kurth was warned that he could be violating drainage law and that the tile could be blocked by the county.

Kurth told the commissioners that he installed pattern tile in place of existing tile in the land. He said that "most of'' the water in the disputed acres drained to Hodgdon Lake and not County Ditch 132.

Deters recommended Tuesday that the county require Kurth to petition to include the disputed acres in the ditch system. Then the acres would be assessed for ditch system costs.

Deters also recommended that the county look at what improvements are needed to correct the drainage problems affecting the Wick property.

He said that a redetermination of benefits for the ditch system would also likely result in the disputed land being assigned a benefit and assessed for system costs.

A redetermination of benefits would be a costly project and would result in all the unassessed drainage in the system being identified and not just Kurth's land.

Steven Wick told the commissioners that either an after-the-fact petition or relying on redetermination to correct the matter sends the wrong message. "Laws don't really matter,'' he said.

The issue in the Ditch 132 system highlights a larger problem believed to exist in all of the county's 154 ditch systems.

Many feet of tile line have been added to the Ditch 132 system since it was built in the 1950s. No one knows how many feet of tile have been added or where. Consequently, no one knows how many acres might be drained to the ditch without being assigned benefits and assessed costs for it.

The added drainage has exceeded the capacity of a system designed over half a century ago. Those paying the costs for the system are sometimes experiencing the greater harm from the excess drainage.

The county looked at an improvement project to address drainage problems in the disputed area. The estimated cost for the improvement ranged from $600,000 to $800,000, according to Larry Zupke, county ditch inspector.

In this dispute, the parties also noted that there are other complicating factors involved. A "clerical error'' made in 1960 -- or only two years after benefits were originally assigned -- incorrectly changed a description of one parcel now owned by Kurth. It also moved the assigned benefit made in 1958 to an adjoining parcel owned by Kurth.

Commissioner Ralph Novotny of Buffalo Lake said he has also been informed that there are allegations that some of the drainage now in dispute also affected wetlands.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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