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Lawsuit challenges Limbo Creek project authorized by Renville County

A coalition of citizen and environmental groups filed a lawsuit in District Court to block a project to excavate a channel into Limbo Creek, which it calls the last, largely unaltered waterway in Renville County. The lawsuit is the second over Limbo Creek. In October, the county filed a lawsuit challenging the authority of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to return the waterway to the state's Public Waters Inventory.

Renville County has approved a petition by County Ditch 77 landowners to extend this open channel in Limbo Creek for the Ditch 77 outlet, which is covered by sediment. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune file photo
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OLIVIA — A coalition of citizen and environmental groups has filed a civil lawsuit asking the District Court to stop the Renville County Drainage Authority from allowing a channel to be excavated into Limbo Creek .

The lawsuit filed last week charges that the county is violating rules protecting public waters by moving forward with an improvement project for Renville County Ditch 77, which outlets into Limbo Creek. The county has not obtained a permit to work in public waters from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources . It has not undertaken an environmental review as is also required, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks the court for an order stopping the project as a violation of state law, and only allowing it to go forward if the project is designed so as not to allow pollution, impairment and destruction of natural resources. The lawsuit calls Limbo Creek the only remaining, largely unaltered watercourse in Renville County .

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If allowed to proceed, the project “will destroy wetlands and transform Limbo Creek from a wild, meandering stream into another channelized and straightened waterway polluted with agricultural runoff, a common feature in Minnesota farm country,” states the lawsuit.

A group of citizens organized as Protecting Public Waters joined environmental groups Clean Up the River Environment , based in Montevideo; the Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River , based in New Ulm; and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy , headquartered in St. Paul, in filing the lawsuit.

The Renville County Board of Commissioners , acting as the drainage authority, approved a petition by landowners on County Ditch 77 on Nov. 3. It calls for opening a 5,560-linear-foot channel into Limbo Creek at the outlet of County Ditch 77.

The County Ditch 77 ditch system consists of 36,000 linear feet of underground tile and a 500-foot open ditch for a 975-acre watershed.

Landowners on the system petitioned for the project in 2017, and it has since become the focus of a dispute involving the county, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the citizens and environmental groups.

Renville County filed a lawsuit in October 2020 charging that Limbo Creek is not a public watercourse, with the exception of a small portion of Limbo Creek at its outlet to the Minnesota River. As a result, the county maintains that it has the authority to approve drainage work there and does not a work permit from the DNR.

The county argues that the excavation would restore a channel that once existed at the outlet into Limbo Creek.

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The citizens and environmental group who filed this lawsuit charge that the channel was never legally established and had not been maintained.

The project would permanently destroy 6.56 acres of wetlands and temporarily harm an additional 2.16 acres of wetlands. It will “destroy wildlife habitat, degrade wetlands, increase nitrogen and phosphorus, increase water velocity, reduce transient storage capacity and natural retention and increase streambank erosion,” the lawsuit charges.

It also stated that in June 2017, the DNR had informed Renville County that excavating the channel was “not a viable option” due to its environmental harm.

Read more stories about Limbo Creek

The DNR is currently in the process of considering whether to include the entire 7.1 miles of Limbo Creek as part of the state's Public Waters Inventory . It accepted public comments on the proposal last fall.

The DNR maintains that it was not originally placed on the Public Waters Inventory in the 1980s due to a mistake, and that it now has the authority to correct the mistake. It is part of a list of waterways that the department has proposed to return to the Public Waters Inventory.

The civil lawsuit filed by the coalition of citizens and environmental groups argues that Limbo Creek meets all the requirements of a public watercourse. The suit points out that the DNR has asked the county to not take any action on the County Ditch 77 project until a decision on whether to include Limbo Creek on the Public Waters Inventory is made.

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