Farmers mad about Ditch 21
County Ditch 21, located west of Blue Earth and north-east of Guckeen, was slated for an improvement project last July. The project includes digging three miles of new open ditch and laying over six miles of new tile.
Last Tuesday, Oct. 2, some farmers who have been struggling with the improvement ditch project were able to voice their concerns with their commissioners during the Faribault County Board meeting.
CD 21’s system crosses over Interstate 90 a total of six times, and according to Merissa Lore, Faribault County’s drainage manager, the greatest area of concern is some land upstream from one I-90 crossing which is off grade, which does not drain water properly; a concern that has been heightened by this year’s abundance of late snow, hard-hitting hail and heavy rain.
“We’ve just really been having some bad luck with this improvement, and we are working as swiftly as we can to alleviate the issues our local farmers are seeing in their fields,” says Lore. “We know it’s a big concern, and we are concerned, too.”
The project began last July, and according to the farmers in that area of CD 21, not much progress has been made since then.
“The ditch project that’s going on by us obviously has been an issue here for a while,”?said one local farmer. “I feel like I’ve talked to people to try and get my concerns addressed, and nothing ever happens.”
Multiple farmers in attendance had the same issue. Massive problems, and no solutions from eitherthe contractor or the engineer involved in this vast ditch project.
“Nothing’s happened. Nothing is done. Just to get harvesting done would be nice, but that’s going to be tricky as it is,” said the farmer. “The other thing is, we’ve got that main that broke and we’ve got a waterfall going. If we don’t get that fixed this fall, it’s going to drag onto next year with crop damages and a huge mess.”
Though the multitude of farmers were upset, the civil servants of the land stayed calm to address their issues with their commissioners.
“We’ve been in meetings with our contractors and engineers on this project and we are doing what we can to see what our options are and how we can proceed and what we can do and what our parameters are with this,” said commissioner Greg Young. “We need to see where everyone is at and how we’re going to move forward.”
Young stated that the farmers’ concerns, along with many other issues regarding CD 21’s improvement plan, are on a punch list. However, that punch list is some 65 pages long.
“I guess my biggest issue is that we had that punch list last spring, had it last fall. We’ve known the issues, and I’ve gotten the same response you just gave me. ‘We’re going to do it, we’re going to check on it and get it done.’ We’re going on a year and nothing has been done,” said one farmer to the commissioners.
Issues with CD 21 includes a multitude of mucky messes, what one commissioner considered “lakefront property” due to the amount of water unable to drain from the land; including a broken main that involved the crushing of an estimated 200 feet of tile away from the ditch, which caused 180 acres not to drain properly.
Lore explained that an intake was put into a trench in order for the water to flow, but the intake valve controlling the flow of water broke. Twice.
“I don’t want to see this bleed into next year,” said one farmer. And commissioners, along with the drainage department say they are doing everything they possibly can to alleviate the stresses of local farmers.
“Even besides that area, we know we have a lot more issues of concern,” said Young.
“We are not going to sit here and flood you out another year,” said commissioner Tom Warmka. “Not going to happen. But we want to make sure we do this right. I don’t want to jump in front of anyone, but I want to stick up for you guys, too.”
But farmers are frustrated to the Nth degree, so much so, there is chatter of private lawsuits.
“If it happens that we have to personally sue these people for something that is so blatantly wrong like plugging an existing tile, nobody is going to win,” said one farmer in attendance. “The people that hired these people, I’m wondering what they were thinking? They can’t even put field tile in. We have excellent, local people that know tile, that can see tile and smell tile. How did this happen? When will we see some resolution here? I feel like we were doomed from the get-go.”
Commissioners did their best to alleviate any stressful questions farmers in the area of CD 21 brought up, including when farmers would be getting their payments for damages.
“We want to get this built and running,” said Lore. “We pay crop damages usually around Dec. 1, there’s some things that were in the design and in the final engineering report. There were damages figured into the cost along the alignment of the improvement project. But areas that have been damaged because of lack of keeping an outlet or other conflicts like damage outside of the easement areas? Those are areas of concern.”
With farmers ready to move on, they are growing tired of paperwork and process, and quickly.
“This has all been very messy,” said Lore. “But if the contractors and engineers keep working, that’s to our best benefit. They have until Dec. 31 to get things done, but I know a lot of contractors in the area are far behind schedule. If we can just keep them working, that’s to our advantage to get this mopped up. And the subcontractor we have is truly very good at tile work. As long as they are working, and they keep things moving, that’s the best case scenario, otherwise we will be sitting here in spring with the same issue.”
“We have to understand the process,” said commissioner Tom Loveall. “I don’t know when you will get your payment for damages for this project, I don’t know when we will reach the end of this process, but I know it is probably not going to be a nice, clean cut on Jan. 1.”
Commissioners and the drainage team, alike, will continue to be in discussions with local area farmers, the contractors and engineers assigned to CD 21 in hopes that the list of issues with the project get resolved in 86 days, Dec. 31, CD 21’s project complection deadline.