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Who pays for ditch upgrades? Public hearing on Ditch 25 redetermination of benefits to reconvene on Tuesday

At the request of some affected property owners, ditch viewers are taking another look at some properties along Ditch 25, near Perham, as part of the redetermination of benefits process.

Ditch 25, which is part of a lake outlet plan now under appeal in court, could at some time be repaired or upgraded beyond its basic needs, at the expense of area property owners.

Ditch viewers, Otter Tail County Board members and other county officials met with affected property owners at a public hearing Feb. 4 to answer questions about how benefits are assigned to different parcels of land. Percentages, representing specific parcel benefits, represent shares of any costs chargeable to the six-mile-long drainage system.

A public hearing on this process will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. next Tuesday, Feb. 26, at the County Government Services Center in Fergus Falls.

"Ditch viewers determine benefits based upon legal standards established by statute," said County Commission Chairman Doug Huebsch, who represents the Perham area on the five-person county board.

Standards include increases in market value as a result of the improved ditch system, an increase in potential agricultural production and other factors. The ditch viewers establish different levels of benefits, reflecting various considerations.

"Area property owners, through the public hearings, have the opportunity to question and express opinions regarding the fairness of the benefits assigned to their property," said Huebsch. "At these hearings, the ditch viewers explain how they arrived at the assigned benefits."

The last public hearing on Feb. 4 did not specifically focus on any potential repair work, nor will the next hearing on Feb. 26.

Possible repairs and more detailed enhancements to Ditch 25 could be used at the public hearing, however, as examples of how distribution costs would work. Should the court allow an outlet, and other environmental and regulatory hurdles be reached, properties benefitted by the outlet would contribute under terms of the outlet authorization.

An engineer's study would be part of any repairs or more detailed enhancements.

Ditch 25 dates back to 1907 and at the present time is only workable at 70 percent of its original intent.

The county board is responsible for 63 public ditches in various sections of Otter Tail County.