An environmental group is asking that an Environmental Assessment Worksheet be completed before a petition by landowners on County Ditch 77 seeking to open a channel at its outlet into Limbo Creek in Renville County is decided.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy filed the petition last Thursday asking for an EAW on the CD 77 petition. The Environmental Quality Board is expected to decide this week whether the petition is complete, and if so, respond to its request.

Along with seeking an EAW, the petition asks the EQB to assign the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as the Responsible Governmental Unit to consider the County Ditch 77 petition. The petition is currently before the Renville County Drainage Authority.

“The point of our petition is that we do not think the drainage authority should channelize the last free-flowing watercourse in Renville County without understanding what the environmental consequences of that decision will be,” Attorney Elise Larson, representing the MCEA, told the Tribune.

The petition by landowners on County Ditch 77 is at the center of a dispute over Limbo Creek involving Renville County, the MCEA and the Minnesota DNR. The DNR is proposing to return Limbo Creek and Sacred Heart Creek and portions of two other small streams in the county to the Public Waters Inventory. The DNR stated that it is doing so to make corrections to the Public Waters Inventory, which was originally drafted in the 1980s.

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Renville County is challenging the public waters designation for Limbo Creek. The county charges that only a small segment of the waterway, not the entire 7.1-mile length, was originally placed on the public waters inventory. The DNR does not have the authority to place the full length of Limbo Creek on the public waters inventory and make a “correction” in this situation, according to the county.

The MCEA petition asks the EQB to find that an EAW should be mandatory since the CD 77 project affects a public waterway. Larson said the EQB could decide instead that an EAW is discretionary. In that case, she said that Responsible Governmental Unit would decide whether or not an EAW should be required.

Landowners on CD 77 filed the petition to open a 5,500-feet-long channel where the ditch outlets into Limbo Creek south of Sacred Heart and upstream of Skalbekken County Park. The CD 77 outlet is covered by sediment and the area is choked by cattails and aquatic vegetation.

The final engineering report for the project terms it a repair rather than a change or improvement, stating that a channel had once existed at the location. In its petition, the MCEA challenges that the project qualifies as a repair under state drainage law. Any channel that may have existed there had been made illegally and was not part of an approved action by the drainage system, according to the MCEA.

State drainage code only allows for repairs to ditches that have been formally approved, said Larson. “You don’t get to call it a repair if you’ve never made it a part of the drainage system.”

The MCEA charges in the petition that channelizing the outlet into Limbo Creek would cause environmental harm. It would harm upstream wetlands, causing the loss of a minimum of six acres of upstream wetlands, according to the MCEA.

It would also add the water and flow from the 775 acres of farmland drained by CD 77. That will add nitrogen and sediment to Limbo Creek and the Minnesota River, into which it outlets at Skalbekken Park. The added water will also increase the velocity of flow in Limbo Creek and contribute to bank erosion and further sedimentation, according to the MCEA.