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Landowners vocal over drain reassessment

June 12, 2012

Mike Opat of Moore Engineering shows the Barnes County Water Resource District Board and several dozen members of the audience the boundaries of the new assessment district for the Thordenskjold Drain. Also pictured are board members Duane Lettenmaier, from right, and Jerry Hieb, and water board legal council Sean Fredericks, left.

“Opinions don’t matter, they’re going to do what they want to do,” said one landowner as he left a public hearing on the Thordenskjold Drain reassessment.

The Barnes County Water Resource District Board held a public hearing Monday morning about the reassessing landowners who benefit from the Thordenskjold Drain that runs in the southeast portion of the county. The former assessment district included about 7,000 acres, but further evaluation found that many more in the basin, mostly north of the current assessment district, benefit from the drain. The new assessment district will include approximately 21,000 acres.

Several dozen landowners attended the hearing, held during the regular water board meeting at the Barnes County Highway Department. Some attendees had to hold the door to the department’s conference room open and peer in from the hall due to limited seating.

While some attendees had legitimate questions about the assessment, others took the opportunity to voice their displeasure with water board operations.

“I don’t think we’re accomplishing anything with this dialogue here,” said Sean Fredericks, the water board’s legal council.

“The board is supposed to assess people whose water is in the watershed. What the board can’t do is go out and put in culverts under every road, under every approach, under every township road or county road; they don’t have the jurisdiction to do that. By law what they’re supposed to do is include everybody who’s in the watershed in the assessment district,” Fredericks said.

Landowners will be assessed up to $2 an acre for maintenance of the drain, which has several sites in need of repair.

“There is significant damage and work that needs to be done, especially in the lower reaches of the drain,” said Mike Opat of Moore Engineering, the firm that does the majority of engineering work for the water board.
“Basically we tried to include areas within about a 20-acre area, plus or minus... We make some determinations on where it gets cut off and where it doesn’t... Generally the way it’s always done is if you’re in close proximity to the drain, you’re going to get a 100 percent assessment.”

One land owner in Norma Township brought up the fact that an entire section of his property was assessed at 100 percent, but half of that land drains west, away from the Thordenskjold Drain.

“You can come out to my hill and look at it. There’s no way that goes east, boys,” he said, adding he would gladly pay an assessment on the east half of his land, but felt he and his neighbors should not pay assessments on land that doesn’t run off into the drain.

With the hearing stretching on beyond it’s allotted time, the water board’s Vice President Pat Hurley, who was filling in for an absent President Jeff McMillan, closed the hearing saying, “We’re going to go with the statements that were made, and we’ll make a decision on the reassessment.”

Landowner Mylo Buchholz lost about 54 acres to the drain and was wondering after the meeting what the residents between the south end of the assessment district and the Maple River were assessed for drainage. The water board said the water eventually runs out and evaporates, but Buchholz said it reaches all the way to the river.

“What I collected from the meeting is we are going to be paying Thordenskjold for getting everything fixed for them,” Buchholz said.

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