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Lots of concern over ditch project

By Staff | Nov 6, 2016

County residents present their arguments about work on County Ditch 24, as sheriff Mike Gormley, left, looks on.

Roads, ditches and donation funds.

They are familiar talking points for the Faribault County Board of Commissioners, but they also prompted lengthy discussions and a few votes Tuesday, as the board oversaw public comment on planned county ditch repairs, a modification to five-year county construction plans and monetary contributions to the Veterans Services office among other things.

The ditch, specifically County Ditch 24, was the contested subject of the board’s drainage session following the morning’s regular meeting, and county sheriff Mike Gormley was on hand to monitor seven guests who voiced concerns about excessive water flow caused by the drainage system there.

Commissioner Tom Loveall, who represents that particular ditch’s district, suggested that heavy rainfall, including a five-inch accumulation in recent weeks, cannot always be tamed by even additional drainage adjustments, but several guests recommended the board tweak construction plans in the area in order to prevent overflow and subsequent flooding of their farmland.

“The cascading of water is more rapid,” one man commented, pinning some blame on the ditch’s drainage designs. “They’re getting an inordinate amount of water fast.”

When emotions escalated as the conversation unfolded further, one resident, who did not identify himself, asked if the board had not “gotten anything done” regarding the ditch’s alleged issues because of a “gentleman’s agreement about not getting into each other’s business,” and another stomped on the floor as he exclaimed it took “58 years to get some action” from the county’s District 4 representatives.

After explaining the benefits of the ditch’s current drainage system, Loveall reminded the guests that the board chose to hold the public comment session for the sake of the visitors’ concerns as well as the fact that he is not nor has ever claimed to be a certified engineer.

“I’m tired of being accused, because I’ve never dinked with this,” he said. “I’ve shot things straight, and I’ve done that my whole life.”

With some guests still clamoring for tweaks to the drainage system, specifically in regards to what one man called an “undersized” plan that allegedly pushes excess water to the north end of the ditch, commissioner Tom Warmka ultimately brought the discussion to a close.

“The problem is, we’re going to start construction there any day,” he said, referencing previously discussed plans for the ditch. “The project’s been bid, and the project’s going to happen.”

No definitive action was taken as the public comment wrapped up, although some guests both acknowledged the county’s plans as “good” and continued to recommend slight modifications to drainage project sizing.

Speaking of modifications, the board approved one earlier in the day when county engineer Mark Daly presented five-year plans for construction projects in the area.

Outlining several potential plans, Daly requested the commissioners sign off on a handful of projects slated for 2017 and 2018, including a 4.5-inch overlay of County Road 18, a two-inch overlay of County Road 20 and other work on County State-Aid Highway 24 among other areas.

Beyond 2018, Daly requested the board review the five-year plan as a whole and potentially make additional decisions on impending construction at that point.

Daly’s request drew unanimous support from the board, although Warmka cautioned against any plans that might put even more financial burden on local taxpayers.

“I don’t vote, but I wouldn’t vote for this,” he said. “I don’t know if the taxpayers on the east side of the county can stand to handle additional taxes for roads.”

Receiving state aid, of course, might alleviate some of those economic concerns, but commissioner Bill Groskreutz said the way legislative action or a lack thereof has been prominent, the board could be “waiting for the state when they bury us.”

Groskreutz supported the construction plans, labeling upcoming projects a necessary “band-aid” and receiving support from fellow commissioner John Roper.

“If state aid isn’t there, we’ve got to find alternative ways to help,” Roper said. “We’re saying 50 percent of our roads are in bad shape, so we’ve got to do something.”

In the Veterans Services department, money does not seem to be quite as much of a concern, as officer Dave Hanson also visited the meeting to obtain approval of several donations to the office.

“We received a KBEW donation for $1,000,” he said, “plus Thrivent (Financial) donated $250 and Anderson Electric donated $100.”

The latter two donations, Hanson added, were made specifically for “Operation: Send A Smile,” the Veteran Services office’s initiative to send handwritten letters, cards and various packages to both those serving overseas and veterans in the area.

A separate private donation of $50 will also go toward “Operation: Send A Smile,” which had Hanson and recent Veterans Services hires Jenna Schmidtke and Ryan Bromeland preparing boxes to ship, while the KBEW donation could go toward the purchase of a new veterans van for the department.

The board approved each of the donations as well as Hanson’s request to pursue that purchase before the end of 2016, seeing as though he has already located a new model that could replace the office’s current vehicle.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the County Board also:

Voted to offer $15,000 of support to the Faribault County Fair Board of Directors, first declining Roper’s recommendation of $30,000 in contributions to the fair.

In years past, Loveall said the standard donation from the county has been in the range of $10,000, a total the board has often also offered to other local groups such as the county’s historical society and a total that both Groskreutz and commissioner Greg Young deemed reasonable for the fair board.

“Half the license plates at the fair are from Iowa,” Groskreutz said. “Unlike people here paying for it, they have no investment in it tell me why.”

His sentiments came not long before Young pushed the discussion to a vote.

“I’d motion we keep it in line with what we gave to others,” Young said.

A 2-2 vote on the motion for a $10,000 donation, however, was downed by Warmka, who said he does “maintain that we’ve got to keep the fair going,” indicating a larger donation would be more fitting.

A follow-up motion by Loveall for $15,000 in contributions drew another stalemate, but Warmka’s deciding vote swung things the other way that time, concluding the matter and approving the new total.

Approved two new county correction-officer hires Ashley Egesdal and Jacqueline Frederickson and discussed the widespread turnover in county staff over the last year.

“We will have had 25 new hires in 2016,” said Central Services director Dawn Fellows. “And we’ve also done five internal promotions and had seven retirements, so that’s over 20 percent of our staff.”

Calling the changes unsurprising because of the staff’s longevity, Loveall said “the day of reckoning was coming for a long time,” and Warmka applauded Fellows for leading the county hiring process.

Approved steps to establish a new recycling site in Winnebago one that would likely be overseen by the city’s B&B Sanitation and Recycling.