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County approves ditch improvement project in southwest Stevens County

MORRIS – The Stevens County Board of Commissioners, acting as the county drainage authority, has approved a $1.9 million improvement project to a ditch system in the southwest section of the county.

On Tuesday, the board reconvened a final hearing on the County Ditch 30 project. The final hearing was first convened on Sept. 24, but was recessed at the recommendation of Stevens County Ditch Attorney Kurt Deter until several questions about project specifics could be answered.

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. A preliminary engineering 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.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Brent Johnson, an engineer with Houston Engineering, presented two new options for the project based on landowner feedback at the Sept. 24 hearing.

Originally, Johnson’s plan called for burying the old tile in some sections of the original County Ditch 30 system. After consulting with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Johnson learned they would need permits to bury parts of the tile system. Rather than going through with the “pain and suffering” of the permitting process, Johnson said he is recommending moving County Ditch 30 about 20 feet from the original system, then abandoning the old tile entirely.

Johnson also offered a revised plan for installing pipes in the new system. In the original plan, Johnson recommending following the industry standard by burying pipes in granular material.

After speaking with sales representatives for the project, Johnson said the pipes can be installed without a suggested granular bedding material because this is an agricultural use. Cutting out the extra material would save about $200,000 on the project.

With these changes, Johnson said the total project cost would be about $1.89 million rather than the $2.1 million he presented in September. At that rate, the cost per acre is about $869.

During the hearing, a landowner criticized the project and asked whether the planned outlet would be sufficient for the ditch system. Johnson defended the plan, noting that it met the standards for adequate drainage in most situations.

After reviewing the reports and determining that the project met the six criteria for an improvement project, the board voted unanimously in favor of the improvement.

The board also voted to have Houston Engineering prepare the plans and specifications for the project and prepare to look for bids. The plans for the project will include a potential revision to move a ditch around a homestead rather than straight through it.