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County considers $2 million ditch project

MORRIS -- The Stevens County Board of Commissioners, acting as the county drainage authority, is considering a $2 million improvement project to a ditch system in the southern section of the county.

On Tuesday, Sept. 24, engineers and viewers appointed by the board presented their findings on an improvement project for County Ditch 30 to the board and about 20 affected residents.

County Ditch 30 is a subsurface drain tile system that includes about 2,000 acres in Scott, Darnen, Horton and Synnes Townships. If approved, the project would be paid for by landowners in the ditch’s watershed.

The process for an improvement project began in May 2012 when some landowners in the system filed a petition for improvement for the ditch. At that time, the board ordered a preliminary engineering report. The report was presented at a preliminary hearing in December 2012.

At that time, the board found that the project was feasible, necessary, of public benefit and that the outlet for the proposed project was adequate. With those findings, the board ordered Houston Engineering to prepare a detailed report and appointed viewers to determine the benefits and damages to all property within the ditch system.

Brent Johnson, an engineer with Houston Engineering, and Jim Weidemann, one of the three viewers appointed for the project, presented their findings to the board and affected landowners at a hearing on Sept. 24.

Johnson estimated that a project to improve drainage by aligning and deepening the tile system, along with increasing the slope and size of the tile, would cost about about $2.07 million. The estimate includes about $1.8 million for construction, about $100,000 for contingencies, and another $170,000 for engineering, viewing, easements and other costs.

If the costs were assessed equally throughout the system, the average cost per acre for the project would be $951, Johnson said.

“We all know it’s expensive, a $2.07 million drainage project, but if you want to built that kind of investment that’s what it will cost,” said Johnson.

Some landowners objected to the estimated cost of the project and argued that some of the line item expenses, like $17,000 for traffic control, were too high.

“There’s more quark in this bid than anything I’ve ever seen,” said attendee Gordon Dalseide.

“Maybe the bids will come in low and we’ll all be happy; I’ve done my best to give you what I think is an honest bid,” said Johnson.

After a discussion of more than two-and-a-half hours, Stevens County Ditch Attorney laid out six questions that need to be addressed before the board could make a final decision on the project:

• whether a small part of the system should be abandoned via a partial abandonment hearing,

• what the estimated project costs would be if the pipes were bid as plastic or concrete,

• whether there are problems with crushing concrete and leaving it in the ground,

• what are the sizes and depth of tile in a swamp section of the system,

• whether some of the land is going to be set aside in a conservation program which would change the benefits and,

• a re-notice for the hearing to make sure it is notified correctly.

After hearing Deter’s suggestion, the board voted to recess the hearing to be continued on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at 10:30 a.m. at the Stevens County Courthouse.