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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!

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July 1st, 2010 issue

Chokio Review • P.O. Box 96  Chokio, MN 56221 • Site Map

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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 to it.

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. 

The redetermination 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 determination. 

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 been misidentified. 

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 that.

“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.

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