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City of Willmar, Minn., offers petition to assume ownership of segment of the ditch

WILLMAR — A public hearing Tuesday to discuss the redetermination of benefits of County Ditch 23A included requests by several property owners to lower their financial responsibilities and a petition from the city of Willmar to take over ownership of about one-third of the open ditch, which includes Grass Lake.

The City Council took action Monday to approve the petition.

The county accepted receipt of the petition Tuesday but delayed taking action until another hearing on the ditch is held June 4.

The city intends to assume ownership of the segment of the ditch that’s located in the city limits.

Doing so will allow the city to include the ditch in their stormwater storage system, said Kurt Deter, an attorney who specializes in drainage ditch law who was hired by the county.

Paul Molenaar, a property owner with land downstream in the ditch system, asked if the city would also become responsible for the “quantity and quality of the water” that comes from the city’s streets and ends up in downstream lakes.

Deter said that would be a question for the city during the June 4 hearing.

The ditch was initially constructed in 1905 and the last redetermination of benefits was conducted in the 1950s, Deter said. Since that time new land has been added to the watershed and land values have changed.

When the county began its process of redetermination of benefits it was done with the understanding that Willmar would petition to transfer ownership of a segment of the ditch from the county.

Ron Ringquist of Redwood Falls, who was one of three viewers hired to analyze the benefits the ditch provides for different parcels of land in the watershed, said ag land benefits are tied to individual owners but the city’s ditch benefits are considered as one unit and not by individual homeowners or business owners.

Ringquist said the city’s benefit is estimated at nearly $4.5 million, which is slightly more than 50 percent of the total financial benefit that’s added because of the ditch system.

Because the ditch system has undergone a redetermination of benefits a buffer strip with a one-rod width is required on both sides of the open ditch to prevent erosion.

One farmer in the audience said that will mean a loss of about six acres of farmland for his operation. Given the price of farmland today, he said that will represent a financial loss.

Carolyn Lange

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

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