Jun. 23—MONTEVIDEO — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a farm partnership have filed separate lawsuits challenging their assessments for the Joint Ditch 9 project in Chippewa and Swift counties.
The Ditch Authority for the two counties in March approved the estimated $2 million repair project over the objections of a number of downstream landowners. They objected to its costs and expressed concerns that it would only exacerbate downstream flooding.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is challenging $21,551.26 in assessments on 776.39 acres of land in three different Wildlife Management Areas, two in Chippewa County and one in Swift County.
The PMBB Farm Partnership LLP, of Milan, is challenging $16,500 in assessments on 56.9 acres of land enrolled in a permanent conservation easement. The partnership charges that the viewers "erroneously concluded that the 56.9 acres subject to the permanent conservation easement were benefited by the drainage project and accordingly assessed the acres."
Joint Ditch 9 in Swift and Chippewa counties by West Central Tribune on Scribd
In its legal challenge, the DNR argues that there is no support for the viewers' claim that increased runoff provided by the drainage benefits the wildlife management areas. It points out that the wildlife management areas are largely wetlands, and that reducing the water levels will adversely affect migratory birds as well as other wildlife.
The DNR takes issue with the viewers' assessment that the lands receive the benefit of "improved farmability." As public wildlife management areas, the lands are not farmed, it states in the lawsuit. The DNR objected to the lands being classified for the assessment as class D farmlands, or the lowest value farmlands on an A, B, C and D basis.
The DNR also questioned the assessment based on the "outlet" to the ditch system provided to the wildlife management areas. The lawsuit pointed out that the ditch is part of a naturally flowing complex of wetlands. The wetlands in the wildlife management areas are a natural feature of the landscape.
As it had at a hearing held earlier this year, the DNR again voiced its objections to the viewers' practice of assessing benefits on 10 acres of every 40 acres of public lands. The lawsuit stated that the viewers "maintained that the 10-acre-per-40 approach was appropriate to keep the farmers happy and everyone out of court."
At that hearing, the viewers stated that the 10-per-40 flat-rate assessment was based on the assumption that 10 acres of every 40 are used for food plots. The DNR stated that "the Minnesota Court has previously prohibited such flat rate assessments. ... They do not purport to assign benefits in any manner proportional to the actual benefits derived from the ditch," according to the court filing.
There are currently food plots on a total of 23.25 of the 776.39 acres in the wildlife management areas, according to the lawsuit.
Scheduling conferences for the lawsuits will be held in July and August.