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County board holds public hearing regarding the draft of the Watonwan River Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

At Tuesday's Watonwan County Board meeting, the board held a public hearing for the Watonwan River Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan with landowners, and Land Management Director Dave Haler, and Chad Hildebrand, Soil & Water Conservation District Assistant Manager & County Ditch Inspector.

"My issues are that we never addressed snag removal, beaver dams, or trees falling in the river," said Keith Brekken, who lives along the Watonwan River. "The DNR and their agency people do not seem like they want anything to do with removing any of this stuff from the river. That river is our drainage system for the entire county."

Due to the lack of removal of objects from the river,  has caused a "significant amount of sediment to be removed from the banks," said Brekken.

Two out of the last seven years, the DNR has had to reinforce the dam near Lake Hanska due to the amount of water remaining in the lake, according to Brekken.

Brekken suggested that the dam be opened in February to help drain Lake Hanska and prevent flooding later in the spring.

"Why can't we break it down in the guidelines that this is a simple project to be done?"

Rich Enger, Soil & Water Conservation District 2 Supervisor for the watershed management plan, added that the plan drafted will likely be accepted, but there is still work to do. 

"We could finish up these final things that we need in the plan," said Enger. "Like I said, we have to put them in now while we have the chance." 

Other counties that need to be addressed are Blue Earth and Le Sueur counties.

The DNR has control over the river. The DNR hopes to meet with local landowners to discuss the issues at hand.

Prior to the public hearing, Public Works Director Teal Spellman had three short pieces of business to address with the county board.

The first order of businesses was to accept a resolution for a grant of $500,000 owed to the county by the state for projects.

Spellman also requested the board to approve a resolution for a final payment to Midwest Construction for the highway 19 bridge project done last winter. The bridge was replaced last year, and paving on the bridge was done this year. The total amount for the project was $292,237.75.

The board approved Matt Svalland's leave of absence starting the week of September 21st through October 9th for farming purposes.

Spellman was also asked about farmers farming in ditches, and whether Spellman had any jurisdiction over the land. Currently, there is not a policy in place to enforce a non-farming policy along county roads.

"My intentions are to do it right with policy, and then we can impose that policy," said Spellman. "Yes, it's not legal to farm the right of way. Yes, I know it's happening everywhere, but for us just to go mow down— we have to service all of our right away and purchase right away stakes."

Board member Bill Miller asked if township roads would be enforced in that policy. Spellman advised the county against including township roads in the policy, instead, to leave it up to the township boards if they want to enforce the county policy.

"We don't have any jurisdiction on that."

"I'd like to see it enforced," said Miller.

Jim Branstad mentioned that the Watonwan County fair board agreed $15,000 from the county for this year's fair and $15,000 from the grandstand to redo the retaining wall at the Fairgrounds.

The board also shuffled more funds from the CARES Act to small business grants.

Upon the second round of small business grants, now up to $10,000, there was a need for an additional $150,000 to go into the small business grant "bucket." That "bucket" increases to a total of $475,000, with help from the cities of St. James, Madelia, and Butterfield.

Human Services requested $5,000 for economic support for emergency assistance funds.

The next county board meeting is scheduled for October 6th.

Other items:

Approval of insurance of GO (general obligation) refunding bonds.

- Quote for removal of antenna system in Butterfield.

- Approve resolution for Southern MN RTCC Phase 2 Support

- South Central MN Multi-County HRA Board Appointment- appoint former board member Scott Sanders if he approves

Expanded Electronic Payments

- Preliminary budget approval for 2021, approve levy at 3%

- Library appointment- Kathy Guyer

- Annual step movements for Melissa Hasemen and Alexandra Davis

- Human resources tech assistant program fee of $4,900

- Request from Sharing Tree to use roller rink building to bring presents, can’t use Brandt Ridge due to COVID-19