Douglas County commissioners are looking into a major repair project for County Ditch 17 that could cost between $1.8 and $2.1 million.

County Ditch 17 was established in October 1915 and consists of nearly 65,000 feet of tile and about 2,300 feet of open channel. It is one main trunk with 10 branches with 10 forks.

The drainage area to County Ditch 17 is approximately 2,000 acres and includes several land uses, including wetlands, agriculture fields, commercial/industrial and rural and urban residential housing. The ditch serves as the storm water outlet for a portion of the City of Brandon and outlets into Long Lake.

A public hearing for the ditch took place during Tuesday's regular County Board meeting. County commissioners, along with about 10 landowners, heard from legal counsel Kurt Deter and Chris Otterness from Houston Engineering, Inc. Otterness went over the engineer's repair report.

During the meeting, the landowners, who would feel the cost of the project in their taxes, were encouraged to speak during the meeting.

John Lund – who said he was speaking on behalf of his brother, Wayne Lund, who owns land affected by the drainage system – was not in favor of the whole project because of the cost and the impact it would have on taxes. He said to just fix it to make it better instead of replacing it.

Commissioner Jerry Rapp said he does not see it as affordable for the landowners.

Lund asked how the ditch was put in and who paid for it. Deter replied, "The system is owned by the community and every dime is assessed from land owners."

Deter also said it is a tough time right now for farmers and understood their concerns.

Craig Haseman, a farmer who would be impacted by the project, said he would like the county to look at making some improvements, but wasn't a fan of the county completely replacing/repairing the ditch system. He also suggested doing the improvements in sections.

Kirby Lund, another farmer who would be impacted, also suggested doing repairs in stages instead of doing it all in one fell swoop. He said some branches on his land wouldn't need to be replaced.

Several others spoke out about the project, voicing their concerns about the tax impact.

Engineer's repair report

Otterness provided some background on the ditch, indicating it was more than 100 years old and has had various repairs over the years. He said there was previous landowner interest in improvement and that landowners requested an inspection based on reduced drainage and loss of crops. In addition, landowners expressed concern over the City of Brandon outlet.

In doing the inspection, Otterness said a camera was used to view portions of the drain tile and engineers were hands-on, looking at different sections. The inspections showed shifting seams, cracked pipes, partial tile collapse, root intrusion, stagnant water, accumulated sediment, debris in tile, tile deterioration and deteriorating metal in the tile outlet, among others.

Otterness shared some examples of recommended repair, which included installing plastic drain tile, connecting existing laterals and putting in new surface inlets.

For the City of Brandon outlet, Otterness said the system is adequately sized to convey flows from the city, and ponding areas southwest of Brandon are adequately sized to detain surface flows from the city.

In helping to reduce the cost of the project, Otterness said some of the smaller branches could be realigned, especially under Interstate 94. He also said some of the sections that were previously repaired would probably not require replacement. To do the full repair, the estimated cost is nearly $2.2 million. If some of the reductions are made, the estimated cost is reduced to about $1.8 million.

Recommendations from Otterness included a complete system-wide repair (replacement) to restore capacity to its as-built condition and a complete strategic realignment to reduce the number of crossings under Interstate 94.

Commissioners approved the engineer's repair report and authorized the engineers to prepare final plans and obtain bids. Once the commissioners receive the bids, they will then determine which part of the repair/replacement will be done.