County appoints people to review how ditch benefits landowners

The Mille Lacs County Board has appointed four people with the Minnesota Drainage Viewers Association to study county Ditch No. 14 in the Long Siding area.

Their job will be to determine the amount of benefits or financial damages landowners may incur from the ditch, which could lead to a change in assessments for maintaining the ditch. Some landowners served by the drainage system could see reduced assessments, others could receive an increased assessment and some who are not assessed at all could begin receiving the annual assessment. The assessments go into a fund for maintaining the ditch system, and the assessment formula hasn’t been adjusted since the ditch was installed in the late 1920s.

A petition two months ago from about a half dozen landowners in the area asking the county to determine the landowners’ benefits and damages from the drainage system prompted the county to make the appointments on March 18.

Mille Lacs County Commissioner Tim Wilhelm, one of the petitioners, is a partner in the Wilhelm Farms operation that is serviced by Ditch No. 14. Wilhelm says that a lot has changed with the ditch’s drainage system over the years.

The board’s appointments are classified as disinterested, meaning they are not connected with any of the landowners whose property is affected by the ditching system.

The appointees are John Cunningham, of St. Joseph; Clifford Emmert, of Alexandria; James Weidemann, of Belview; and Ron Ringquist, of Redwood Falls.

The cost of their service will be about $4 per acre of the ditch’s total watershed and it is to be borne by the ditch beneficiaries. The Ditch No. 14 watershed spans an area on each side of Highway 169 and on the north and south sides of Mille Lacs County Road 13 and extends as far east as County Road 4.

The appointees are scheduled to do the field work part of their drainage viewing, expected to take three days, this coming October through December. They are also to perform a day of office work and spend time in hearings next winter into the spring of 2015 to come up with the new assessment formula.

Wilhelm said he is frustrated by how long the process has been taking to re-examine the assessments for the Ditch No. 14 watershed. He said he had been pushing since about five years ago for the county’s Public Works Department to begin the assessment-redetermination process.