Mille Lacs’ ditch levy doubles

Owners of farm land that includes county ditches had questions for Mille Lacs County commissioners during their Dec. 18 meeting at which the county ditch levy for 2013 was set.

Commissioners discussed those questions and then set the ditch levy at $3,137, double what it was in 2012.

Every owner’s levy was doubled exactly.

Carl Sanford, Princeton, said he had no problem with the ditch levy being increased but that there had been no maintenance of Ditch No. 2 on his property in 20 years. He estimated he had lost four tillable acres during that time.

“There has to be some action,” he said.

Commissioner Roger Tellinghuisen responded, saying the county doesn’t own the ditches.

“The county is the referee,” he said. “The ditches are owned by the landowners.”

Tellinghuisen said those owners must pay costs if they want the ditches cleaned up.

Commissioner Dan Whitcomb noted that the ditch levies are assessed percentages based on the original cost of the ditch, some nearly 100 years old.

Kevin Lee, who has Ditch No. 1 running through his property, asked if there was any plan for maintenance, such as spraying trees.

County Administrator Roxy Traxler answered that county engineer Bruce Cochran is working on a plan for ditch maintenance.

“Ideally, we’d look at a 20-year cycle of maintenance on a ditch,” Cochran told those at the hearing.

He said the plan would be to do a twentieth of a ditch each year during that cycle, and then speed up the process or slow it down, depending on what was needed.

Asked who pays for the redetermination of who benefits from a ditch, Cochran answered that ditch owners are responsible for that cost, and that he doesn’t know at this time how many additional owners there would be after a redetermination.

There was a question about contacting a wood chip company in Princeton to possibly remove troublesome trees along ditches. Cochran said he hadn’t done that but understood that some owners had.

Tim Wilhelm, Princeton, a farmer who has had continuing problems with Ditch No. 14, said he has worked with a wood chipping company but that ditches are difficult for such companies and not necessarily cost effective.

(Wilhelm was elected in November to be a county commissioner and will take office next month.)

James Burns, whose property includes Ditch No 3, spoke in favor of the assessments being increased to pay for cleaning that is necessary.