Differing definitions of maintenance

Wolverton Creek in Wilkin County flows through a culvert in this downstream (north) view, also from 130th Avenue South in Holy Cross Township. The county board and the Bois de Sioux Watershed District had differing interpretations of a ditch maintenance agreement between the two agencies.

The Wilkin County Board of Commissioners and the Bois de Sioux Watershed District wrestled with culvert maintenance responsibilities during the county meeting held Tuesday, Aug. 13. The discussion went on for over 45 minutes.

The issue started with the watershed district constructing a culvert to remedy drainage issues. There was a culvert already in place but was set at too high of a grade. The watershed district proposed a metal culvert and then at bid time, found out that Wilkin County requires that culverts be concrete.

Brian Noetzelman, Wilkin County Highway Department engineer, explained that they were offered two options – lower the existing pipe or build a 5-foot by 8-foot culvert and had given them a permit for either option. The watershed district suggested working around this by putting in a smaller 24-inch concrete culvert. Noetzelman agreed on the condition that they would be responsible for maintenance of the culvert.

“We got an email from their engineer that said, ‘yes we’ll maintain it,’ and he was good with the agreement,” Noetzelman said. “So, they installed it we never really got anything in writing as far as maintenance.”

“If there’s problems [it’s] on the watershed district because they installed that in order to accommodate their ditch and save a lot of money initially,” Noetzelman said.

According to Chad Engels, engineer with the Bois de Sioux Watershed District, he understood “maintenance” to mean removal of silt and cornstalks should the culvert become plugged. Noetzelman said that the definition of maintenance as only involving cleaning the culvert was not specified in his email with Engels. County Attorney Carl Thunem reviewed the agreement and recommended not passing it due to his understanding of the law.

Attorney Lukas Croaker was present during the board meeting, representing the Bois de Sioux Watershed District. He described the details of the agreement. Croaker said that the agreement offered by the watershed district states that they will maintain it but when the culvert wears out or is replaced then the county would assume responsibility for it.

“I guess we had a miscommunication in what we meant by ‘maintain,’” Engels said.

Engels said that he believes that Wilkin County is benefitting from the work done by the watershed district, the fact that the district is not requiring the county to put them in but is doing it themselves at no cost to the residents and that they are moving the ditches further away from the road when they work on them, improving safety.

“We’re trying on many different fronts to be good partners with you and you have been good partners with us because you have financed these projects,” Engels said. “We want to try and work this agreement out in a way that is mutually beneficial and just move on.”

Klindt argued for adopting the agreement, stating that he thinks it’s adequate. Commissioner Neal Folstad said that he didn’t like going against their legal council, Thunem, on this issue.

“I have been nothing but impressed with the Bois de Sioux Watershed,” Klindt said.

Commissioner Jonathan Green moved that they approve the agreement, Commissioner Dennis Larson seconded.

In the following discussion, Green was in favor of passing it because the was “not willing to put the relationship [between Wilkin County and the Bois de Sioux Watershed District] on the line.”

Commissioner Lyle Hovland expressed a desire to come to a compromise between the two parties and explained that the real issue is whether or not the new culvert is likely to fail.

Engels suggested putting a certain amount of time into the agreement during which the watershed district would be responsible for repairing the culvert, since it would be an issue with construction.

Klindt said that he believed that unnecessary and his only concern is that if anything was to fail it would fail very soon.

“I still think that that’s nitpicking and dragging things down and making things worse in the future for Wilkin County and the Bois de Sioux Watershed, which I think is wrong,” Klindt said. He asked for a vote and Commissioner Green voted yes while Commissioners Hovland, Larson, and Folstad voted no.

“The issue is corrected, the water flows like it’s supposed to. It’s a matter of whether this culvert is likely to fail or not,” Hovland said. “Which is about one chance in 10,000 here right now, we’re nitpicking over something pretty minimal.”

Larson moved that they change the agreement between the two parties so that the district and county would split costs of replacement up to 10 years.

After discussion, it was decided that 10 years was too long and the commissioners decided to let the engineers figure out a new agreement.

In other board news:

• They heard a quarterly department update from Auditor-Treasurer Janelle Krump.

• The board voted to accept a grant from the state of Minnesota for a firewall for the county’s website.

• Maintenance Supervisor Glen Roberge gave the board an update on the courthouse railing project, saying that it would most likely be started in September. He also mentioned a safety concern in the parking lot at the Family Service Center.

• The meeting was briefly closed to discuss a personnel issue.

The next county commissioners meeting will be held at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27.

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