By Jon Roeschlein, Sauk River Watershed District ditch and permit coordinator
The Sauk River Watershed District’s Drainage Authority has two public drainage system redetermination of benefits processes beginning soon in Stearns County. This seemed like a good time to also share some general information about drainage terms and the process, even for folks not directly involved in these current ditch systems. We apologize for some complicated jargon and terms, but have tried to explain it the best possible way while sticking within Minnesota State Statute terms and vocabulary.
First, let’s define some of the terminology that is used in the statute for a better understanding:
Benefit Amount. This is a dollar amount that is assigned to a parcel to be used in comparison to other parcels in the system. It is used strictly to calculate the percentage of the total “benefits” when it comes time to assess for ditch related costs in the future.
Benefitted Area. This is the area of land that drains to the ditch system, which contributes to the need for the ditch system to be maintained. In some cases, the property depends on the system for drainage and will be assigned a higher “Benefit Amount”. Other properties don’t really depend on the system for their drainage, yet their water drains through the system and contributes to the need for maintenance and repair from time to time. These lands are likely to be assigned a lower “Benefit Amount.”
Viewers. These are the people that make the determination what each property “Benefit Amount” should be. The Drainage Law requires that they be 3 “dis-interested” people. They look at many pieces of information to formulate their determination and apply that research to each property. They develop a “Viewer’s Report” that identifies each parcel, the owner, and the “Benefit Amount” that they believe is fair and consistent. The narrative of the report explains in detail what they did to arrive at their conclusion.
Each landowner identified within the benefitted area of the ditch system will receive what is called a “Property Owner’s Report” (POR). This report will outline the Viewer’s determinations as they relate to the individual property and the rest of the system. This POR is a rather large packet that contains several documents. It is very important landowners review the documents inside right away. There is a short window of time (a month or so) to answer questions and correct errors that only the landowners can identify.
Within 30 days of the mailing of that report, the Sauk River Drainage Authority is required to conduct a public hearing. In between the time the POR is mailed and the hearing is held, we provide time for landowners to visit with the viewers about their individual property, one on one. This is the time to ask questions, point out possible errors that the viewers couldn’t know about, etc. There is usually a limited period of time set aside for this activity and landowners will need to be diligent in responding if they wish to participate. More time will be allotted if there is a demand for it.
At the hearing, the viewers will present their report with any amendments found in the landowner meetings, and recommend it’s adoption. Landowners will have an opportunity to make comments at this time also. The Drainage Authority may accept/adopt the report, accept it with amendments of their own, direct the viewers to look at specific items that may arise in the hearing, and/or continue the hearing to another date and time if they feel it necessary.
Once the “Viewer’s Report” is adopted, it then becomes the basis for all future assessments to pay for expenses incurred to repair or maintain the ditch system. The percentage of the “Benefits” assigned to each property cannot be changed after adoption, until this process is repeated. This is why it is important that landowners come forward in a timely fashion with their questions and corrections before it is adopted.
We realize this was a very brief explanation of the process, but hope it helps explain some of the procedures and statue requirements. We also hope this finds you well and able to remain safe and healthy during these trying times. If you have any drainage related questions or watershed questions in general, we encourage you to contact us at 320-352-2231 or email@example.com