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Landowner speaks out on city airport drainage

GRANITE FALLS — Minnesota Falls Township landowner Theodore Johnson was the only member of the public to attend Tuesday’s 2019 Yellow Medicine County ditch assessment public meeting, and it had at least a slight resemblance to the flood relief station at the Deluge Diner back in 1997 that was five miles away from his land.

Johnson’s assessed land is located about a mile from the Granite Falls municipal airport, a newer small airport that replaced a former facility in a location on the other side of the Minnesota River which was likewise situated above the river valley.

He told county commissioners that his share of ditch benefits (money paid for ditch improvements) is unfair because he takes nearly all of the airport’s drainage. His land is located southeast of the airport, making him one of the few downstream neighbors.

“I don’t benefit,” Johnson said. “When the airport drains it goes to my land. All I get is water.”

The board agreed to take Johnson’s request under advisement. In discussion, Yellow Medicine County Drainage and Land Use Inspector Chris Balfany outlined complications associated with finding drainage alternatives.

He noted that the land in question sits topographically between the airport and the Minnesota River. As one of Minnesota’s four major river systems (along with the Mississippi River, Red River and St. Croix River) it has a relatively small watershed (designated drainage area) compared to the massive volume of water that it holds.

“We’re dealing with peak flow issues,” Balfany said. “It might require some kind of storage upstream. There might be some retention possibilities upstream, but those landowners don’t want a slough.”

He said no other landowner or resident in Yellow Medicine County raised any concern about ditches to his office prior to Tuesday’s hearing.

Under current conditions, the repair bill on the ditch system is substantially higher than an average ditch of the same size and repair has been needed on a frequent basis. He estimated that significantly better drainage on Johnson’s land could require an outlet that’s more than double the size of what’s now in place.

“We’ve been repairing it repeatedly,” Balfany said. “When too much water comes through the ditch, it (the drainage tile) just busts out.”

Balfany and other county officials said they’ll continue to try to find the best possible alternative, with help as needed from state and federal agencies.

In other business the board voted to keep the county’s cyber-security insurance the same as what it has in 2019 through the Association of Minnesota Counties.

The county currently receives $100,000 of insurance for free. Sublimits on the insurance include $50,000 for legal costs and $5,000 for public relations expenses.

AMC offered an alternative to its counties that would require Yellow Medicine County to pay either $1,200 annually if it wants $250,000 in coverage or $2,400 if it wants to go as high as $500,000.

County Administrator Angie Steinbach told the board that AMC doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be increases in its proposed rates after 2020. She said background notes state that only three out of Minnesota’s 87 counties exceeded the free coverage limits, and only by amounts that were small in compared to their annual budgets.

“If only three counties went slightly over, it doesn’t seem like we need to make a change now,” said Commissioner John Berends. “It’s definitely something to monitor.”

Commissioner Ron Antony said he also gave careful thought to the issue because of the fast-changing nature of all kinds of electronic technology.

One of the items that was briefly addressed in discussion was what constitutes a “grievous error” that causes a data breach. Yellow Medicine County Human Services Director Rae Ann Keller responded that the county hasn’t had any breach that would even be of a serious nature, and that the worst concern expressed by the cyber-insurance carrier occurred when someone accidentally transposed a fax number.

“The world is evolving,” Antony said. “People are catching on to ways they could breach data, and now insurance companies are starting to catch on to them. Insurance is always based on what could potentially happen.”

The board cast a divided vote on whether or not to enter into a five year Federal Emergency Management Administration sponsored service agreement for disaster mitigation studies with the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Yellow Medicine County Sheriff Bill Flatten recommended approval of the plan because of UMD’s track record of doing the same sort of projects for counties. He first inquired with the Upper Minnesota Valley Development Commission, which is based in Appleton and serves the west central Minnesota counties of Big Stone, Swift, Lac qui Parle, Chippewa and Yellow Medicine.

Flatten said the only cost of working with UMD will be in-kind assistance, which means county staff will assist university staff who need answers to basic questions. Commissioners voiced full confidence in UMVRDC, but a majority voted to approve the agreement as recommended.

The only dissenting vote was from Commissioner Gary Johnson, who has served on the Yellow Medicine County board since 1993. He said he’s not fully convinced that UMD is the best organization for the job.

Along with UMVRDC, another possibility brought up at the meeting was the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, which has two Minnesota West campuses in Canby and Granite Falls along with Southwest Minnesota State University, located 12 miles south of the county line in Marshall.

“I’m not sure about it,” Johnson said. “It’s like taking a car somewhere else to get an oil change.”

As part of its consent agenda, the board approved the resignation of Yellow Medicine County Veterans Service Officer Michelle Gatz, who will complete her duties in February.

Steinbach said Gatz’ resignation is because of her planned retirement. The board agreed to hire a replacement under the same job conditions and pay scale.

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