Landowners sound off at ditch hearings

NEW ULM – Brown County commissioners tabled two of three ditch re-determination of benefits hearings Tuesday until its June 18 meeting after landowners raised issues.

Three Mulligan Township residents – Alphonse Mathiowetz, Darold Cook, and Myron Windschitl – were the most vociferous.

Concerns were aired after lead ditch viewer Ron Ringquist of Redwood Falls read his benefits and damages statement for County Ditch 28. The report concluded $5,326,260 in net benefits and $200,412 in maintenance costs would be added to property owners’ county tax bills.

“Our benefit percentage went up and the DNR’s (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) went down. Are we making up the difference?” said Mathiowetz.

Ringquist said Mathiowetz was correct. He said state laws require DNR property to be handled differently than privately-owned land. None of the DNR land was under cultivation that Ringquist knew of; however; others said about 40 acres of DNR land was under cultivation.

Buffer strips were another point of contention.

“We’ve been told to push buffer strips as the most cost-effective way to improve water quality,” Ringquist said. “It’s my understanding that less and less Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts will be renewed as government funds get tighter and tighter in the coming years.”

Windschitl complained of having to “buy his own land back” a decade after selling it at $7,500 an acre, which he called “an outdated price that was lower than current rates.”

“If you want to complain, complain to legislators,” said County Attorney Bob Hinnenthal. “Ditch systems have unique laws. You’re part-owners of them. County boards have no choice but to administer them.”

“Our property corners meet, but our benefit percentage went up and the DNR’s went down,” Windschitl said.

“I don’t farm anymore. Water floods my driveway. Where’s my benefit? They won’t let me put a culvert under my road because it would drain Wood Lake,” said Cook. “Land abutting Wood Lake is flooded due to the DNR. Three-fourths of the problem is due to the DNR and its use of Wood Lake. They force water into it. I’ve often got 2 1/2 acres underwater. If we acted like them, we’d be in all kinds of trouble. I’ve been flooded six times in the last 20 years because the DNR won’t lower Wood Lake.”

Ringquist said ditches provide a way to drain water and that he would take another look at Cook’s property before the issue was addressed at the June meeting.

Mathiowetz said Mulligan Township residents have spent thousands of dollars repairing ditches.

“Now you want to let the DNR off the hook?” he said. “We’re tired of paying for damage from water not in our ditch system. Period.”

Mathiowetz said berms near the lake were to be raised by the DNR after a December 2011 meeting with DNR officials in the Mulligan Town Hall, but that hasn’t happened.

Ringquist said without an engineering study of the Wood Lake watershed, he can’t testify how it overflows.

County Board Chairman Dennis Potter said he’d like the DNR report on the issue.

The ditch re-determination hearing was tabled until the June 18 Brown County Board meeting. Potter said he would invite the DNR to the meeting.

A re-determination hearing for County Ditch 23 was also tabled until the June 18 meeting.

Commissioners approved re-determination hearing for County Ditch 52 in Home Township. Net benefits were set at $1,204,244 and maintenance costs at $100,000.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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