Bonding may be option for funding ditch repairs

Milaca – Environmental resources technician Dillon Hayes gave the Mille Lacs County Board an update on the drainage ditches that have been inspected so far this year and mentioned Nos. 3, 4, 7 and 14. Owners who benefit from the ditch system pay special assessments, and that funding is used to do maintenance and make repairs.

The county has begun in the last two years to do ditch inspections and collect thee special assessments regularly. Previously repairs were only made and assessment collected if an adjacent landowner asked to have one inspected and problems were found.

Many of the field drainage ditches were installed as many as 100 years ago and have not had regular maintenance. Each system was installed during a different era and uses varying methods, ranging from underground pipes to open ditches. Some of drainage features need extensive underground repairs, while the worst problem in other ditches are overgrown trees and vegetation.

Hayes said the funds for ditches 3 and 4 have positive balances but need a lot of tree removal and other maintenance. He said everyone is aware of the problems with No. 14, which not only has old debts attached to it from past repairs but also needs substantial repair now.

Hayes said the options to pay for ditch repairs are to use existing funds, of which there are none for Ditch 14; use the funds as they become available after assessments are paid, which does not accomplish the repairs in a timely manner; and possible bonding, in which all repairs would happen now and landowners would have up to 23 years to repay the assessed amounts.

Commissioner Roger Tellinghuisen said the county should host another meeting with the affected Ditch 14 landowners to brief them about the needed repairs and see how they would like to handle the funding of them. The county held one such meeting so far, where those owners agreed that the ditch should be televised to find its problems.

The subsurface camera inspection revealed the major problems of blockage and a dysfunctional drainage main that is undersized and far away from its original, mapped location, as well as smaller issues. Now that some of the problems are known, the county and owners must figure out a repair-funding solution.