Your Hometown News since 1897
Chokio, MN 56221
Taller Than Knee High
The corn is looking good,
and is certainly taller than the age-old expression, “Knee high by the
Fourth of July.” This area has had an unusually wet June, receiving
about 3 1/2 inches of rain. “Rain a little, shine a little” has become
the Chokio area’s motto. Every other day, it seems, we have a little
rain, followed by some sun. And just when you get ready for a sunny
summer day, another cloud rolls in – half-an-inch there, quarter-inch
here . . . well at least the crops are loving it!
July 1st, 2010 issue
City of Morris, MN
JD 14 hearing continued while viewers refine report
by Nick Ripperger
It was, no doubt, an
anti-climactic meeting for most of those who attended the continuation
of a public hearing on Judicial Ditch 14 in Wheaton on June 17.
What they found out almost immediately was that the hearing was
going to be continued again.
The possible outcome of a
redetermination of benefits on the ditch has proved to be a
controversial subject for many landowners in the area, and generally
speaking, those farthest away from the ditch have been the most opposed
JD 14 is essentially the
Mustinka River in Grant and Traverse counties from Norcross to Lake
Traverse, and includes a portion of 12 Mile Creek and a lateral that was
dug between 5 Mile Creek to 12 Mile Creek. The Mustinka watershed,
however, extends out much further, including land in Stevens, Big Stone,
and Otter Tail counties.
process actually began in 2005 when a majority of landowners who were
being assessed for benefits petitioned the JD 14 authority, the Bois de
Sioux Watershed District, asking for a redetermination of benefits to
bring in the much larger area that they believed was also benefitting
but not being assessed. The petitioners also wanted to bring benefit
amounts in line with today’s land values.
Since the board determined
the petition was valid, it was compelled to act on it. Three
viewers were appointed and spent 2 1/2 years delineating the ditch’s
total drainage area, about 800 square miles.
After the redetermination
was finished, the board held a public hearing in April after notifying
all the potentially affected property owners of the results of the
Most of those who spoke in
April expressed opposition to their land being included in the
redetermination, which means that their property would be assessed for
benefits. Their argument basically was that water would drain from their
land anyway, regardless of whether JD 14 existed or not, and therefore
the ditch was of no benefit to their property.
Those currently being
assessed claimed that water from the higher ground in the watershed
eventually makes its way into JD 14, and property that contributes to
that runoff should help pay for maintaining the ditch.
The board did not take any
action during the April hearing, but continued it until June 17 to give
landowners a chance discuss their particular situation with the viewers
and/or board members.
Viewer Ron Ringquist told
the BDS board and the landowners that they were still in the process of
refining the report, mostly to account for fish and wildlife, and other
conservation program easements. He also said a few property owners had
Aware that the board would
not make a final decision at the hearing, a number of landowners still
took the opportunity to reexpress their opposition to being included.
Some called into question
the integrity of the board for ordering the redetermination, even though
it appears that it was legally required to do so.
A couple, including
Charlie Berg, who has land in Stevens and Traverse counties, maintained
that the Bois de Sioux Watershed District has a history of mismanaging
taxpayer money, and that this was another example. He cited building a
$250,000 office building as an example, saying the board could have used
space in the Wheaton high school instead.
“There’s a wide distrust in government these days and it extends to the watershed [board],” he said.
Chokio-area farmer Kelly
Zimmerman brought up the point that landowners currently not being
assessed for JD 14 benefits nonetheless are still being assessed for
benefits to other ditch systems.
“We [already] pay into a
system that we have spent thousands on,” he told the board. He went on
to say that he pays more taxes to the Bois de Sioux Watershed District
than he does to the Chokio-Alberta school district, “but we can vote on
“There aren’t many people
in the Chokio area who are in favor of this [redetermination],”
Zimmerman concluded. Herman area landowner Pat Haney acknowledged that
the board had to act on the petition, but said that action didn’t
necessarily mean ordering the redetermination. He also tried to poll the
individual board members on why they voted as they did, but board
attorney Tom Athens pointed out that the board has not made a final
determination yet, and that he was advising them to have an open mind.
The hearing, he said, was a
place for them to hear opinions and testimony, not get into debates. He
said when they did vote on the redetermination, that was when they
would likely vocalize their reasoning.
The hearing was continued until August 19 at 1 p.m. at the Wheaton school auditorium.