Ditch under review

 Mille Lacs County will be redetermining the positive and negative effects of Mille Lacs County Ditch No. 14 on land affected by the approximately 85-year-old ditch in the Long Siding area north of Princeton.

The annual assessments that each of the involved landowners have with Ditch No. 14 could potentially be changed.

The County Board’s decision to redetermine the benefits and appoint three “disinterested persons” who are members of a state ditch viewers organization to study the ditch, came after five stakeholders along the ditch petitioned for the redetermination. The redetermination would be the first one that the county will undertake of the ditch, according to Mille Lacs County Public Works Director Bruce Cochran.

The five individuals who signed the petition include Mille Lacs County Commissioner Tim Wilhelm, who signed it on behalf of Wilhelm Farms. The County Board authorized the redetermination project at the recommendation of consulting attorney Kurt Deter with the Rinke-Noonan law firm.

The other four petitioners are: Alvero and Barbara Bekius, Gary Mathison and Erna Deglmann. There were spaces on the petition for parcels owned by other people or estates that are Ditch No. 14 stakeholders, but the spaces didn’t have signatures. The owners listed on those parcels are Janice A. Berndt Backlund, Virgil Schmatz, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Hazel Schmatz, Kingdom Investment, LLC, Jonathan and Sara Clemons, Richard Reiman, East Central Energy and Richard Gustafson.

The board’s action to authorize the redetermination also states that it is to determine what damages any landowner would have from the ditch, which Cochran defined as the value of the land taken up by the ditch.

The board’s ordering of the redetermination of the ditch and appointing three disinterested persons as viewers to come up with the dollar amounts was part of the County Board’s Jan. 28 consent agenda. The board passed the consent agenda, which contained 14 items, with one motion without any discussion at the meeting of any of the 14 topics.

The petition states that the current “viewers report” used for the assessments for Ditch No. 14 “no longer reflects current land values nor does it include all benefited property owners.”

The ditch for the most part, consists of buried 18-inch tile, with laterals of smaller widths attached to the main line. One section of the westernmost part of the ditch is open and connects with the West Branch of the Rum River.

Ditch  14 can be found on both the north and south sides of County Road 13 and on the east and west sides of Highway 169.

The board in December 2012 doubled the assessment fees for Ditch 14 effective Jan. 1, 2013. Those are the fees that the landowners served by the ditch have to annually pay into a fund to maintain the ditch.

Cochran explained in an agenda memo to the County Board that benefits from a drainage ditch include monetary value, while damage can be interpreted as the value of land occupied by both the ditch and the required buffer strips.

Ditch 14 has been in the news in the past several years as deterioration has been overtaking parts of the ditch and there have been discussions on how the repairs should be funded.

Virgil Schmatz said recently that he is “kind of for” the petition because it has prompted a way to look at all the land affected by the ditch to determine fair assessments.

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