OLIVIA — The Renville County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a petition to improve the County Ditch 77 system and its outlet into Limbo Creek, despite opposition from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, an environmental group.

The commissioners, acting as the drainage authority, approved the project along with rejecting a petition by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy that an environmental assessment worksheet be required for the project. The action Tuesday followed a hearing one week earlier at which the DNR and the environmental group voiced opposition to the project, first petitioned for in 2017.

The DNR on Monday submitted a four-page letter outlining its concerns to the county. The letter was not entered into the record as the hearing had been closed last week.

Attorney Jerry Von Korff, who is representing the county, pointed out that the county had made repeated requests to the DNR to discuss the Limbo Creek watershed issues in recent weeks. The requests have gone unanswered, he said. There was adequate opportunity for the DNR to submit material before the last minute, he added.

The DNR reiterates in the letter that the proposed project area is in the process of being added to the state’s Public Waters Inventory. No work can be undertaken without a public waters permit from the DNR or until it has determined the project is exempt from public water requirements, according to the agency.

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Following the county's decision to approve the project, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy senior attorney Elise Larson said, “Renville County’s reckless action today approving a proposal to ditch one mile of Limbo Creek without environmental review and without a state permit will not stand.”

Related: DNR extends comment period on placing Limbo Creek, other Renville County waterways in Public Waters Inventory

Project engineer Mark Origer, of ISG, told the commissioners that the project is needed to open the outlet of County Ditch 77 into Limbo Creek. The County Ditch 77 system drains 975 acres of land. The outlet is obstructed by sediment and cattails and water is backed up on 200 acres of upstream land. Larger areas of upstream land are flooded during rain events.

Origer said the project calls for cleaning the ditch in a wetland complex and extending the outlet for about one mile into Limbo Creek.

The project will maintain the “historic” depth of the channel in the wetlands and the “original, dredge conditions” of the outlet channel into Limbo Creek, according to the engineer.

It calls for replacing a 60-inch culvert with a 72-inch culvert at 820th Avenue and raising the roadbed by three feet. The road is frequently overtopped by floodwater and is a public safety hazard.

The engineer said the project would restore the system to the historic wetland conditions as seen about 25 years ago.

Landowners who petitioned for the project told the commissioners last week that they have watched Limbo Creek flood into farmland due to the obstructed outlet.

Attorney Von Korff said the project does not involve work in public waters. “(It’s) never been in public waters,” he said.

The DNR is now seeking to place the entire 7.1-mile reach of the watercourse on the Public Waters Inventory, he explained.

The attorney said the project seeks to restore the system to its “authorized functionality.”