Residents decide Ditch No. 1 needs cleaning, not redetermination

Staff Writer

About a dozen property owners along Morrison County’s Ditch No. 1 came to the conclusion not to petition the county to redetermine who should pay for cleaning the ditch.

The ditch was built in 1903 for around $900, and is meant to prevent flooding in the area.

The consensus came at an informational meeting Tuesday, to show property owners what the county had discovered about the redetermination process, including its hefty price tag, and what options could be pursued going forward to clean the ditch.

Residents want the ditch cleaned because it isn’t doing its job and their properties are being flooded.

The last time Ditch No. 1 was fully cleaned was in 1998, after construction work was done on County Road 13.

There was also a small cleaning done in 2011 between County Roads 13 and 211, which cost about $3,000, County Engineer Steve Backowski said.

Now, it is filled with silt, organic matter and vegetation, Backowski said.

The ditch runs from the Mississippi River just north of Little Falls at its southern point, to Mud Lake at its northern point.

Part of Camp Ripley could have fallen into the redetermined benefited area and property owners feel that’s where the water’s coming from.

Those property owners would like to see Camp Ripley clear the ditch as part of a training exercise for engineering units, something the county and individuals at Camp Ripley have tried to arrange.

“The training focus isn’t in the type of work that would be done in the ditch,” County Administrator Deb Gruber said.

Brian Sanoski, who works with Camp Ripley’s environmental team, clarified that point by saying while the work would count toward some of the training requirements those units need to meet, it would at most fill three out of a litany of requirements.

The question was also raised by property owners as to why Camp Ripley couldn’t just divert its water into the Mississippi River using a new ditch. Sanoski said that would be a huge undertaking.

“For me to berm the water up into the Mississippi River, I’d need a 32-foot berm that’s a mile-and-a-half wide on Chickimauga Road,” Sanoski said.

That would also mean making the water someone else’s issue, Sanoski said.

In order to get more parcels, including those belonging to Camp Ripley, assessed to clean the ditch, the county would need to hire three ditch viewers to look at the area and decide who benefits by how much from the ditch, County Auditor-Treasurer Deb Lowe said.

“So they (ditch viewers) don’t just look at are you on the ditch or off the ditch, they look at what type of property you have,” Lowe said. “They look at all of these different variables to determine this part of the benefitted area.”

The viewers would begin by looking at all the water that flows into the ditch and where it comes from, and then determine how each property benefits from the ditch, Lowe said.

This could mean that people who already pay into the assessments for ditch maintenance could pay more if more parcels they own are determined to benefit from the ditch.

“We definitely wouldn’t want this,” Marvin Stroschein said. The redetermination process could have led to a lot of the swamp land he owns being added to the ditch assessment roll.

Stroschein said rather than going through with the estimated $120,000 redetermination, the ditch should just be cleaned out and the current property owners would cover the estimated $30,000 cleanout, which would be good for about 25 years.

In addition, if the county proceeded with redetermination, it would have to purchase buffer strips along the ditch and bring it up to modern code, increasing a cleanout cost to about $40,000, Lowe said.

Gruber said the county explored the redetermination process because once the cleaning was ordered, there could be objections.

“When that cleanout order is given, it’s bound to be asked, ‘Why the heck are only these parcels paying for it?’” Gruber said.

The residents agreed the best way forward would be to have the county get the ditch cleaned, even if only the property owners currently assessed pay for it.

“Twenty-five years from now they’ll have to clean it out again. I won’t even be here,” Stroschein said.

Another option would be to allow the property owners to get their own permits to clear their portions of the ditch, but Backowski said those results could vary from good to bad.

“To really make this thing work, I really think it needs to go back to the 1903 situation, where the County Board determines the ditch is not working properly and directs it to be cleaned,” Backowski said.

He would like to see Public Works get the go ahead to do the project this fall, depending on the weather.

The Board will vote on the issue after its meeting Tuesday, as its drainage authority powers are different from regular county business.