Letter to the Editor

Drainage District No. 37

Monday, May 27, 2019

I have resisted writing publicly, preferring to address the issues with the Clay County Board of Supervisors and the Clay County auditor, but after the most recent article regarding Drainage District No. 37 I felt the need to clarify several issues.

At the May 7 regular meeting of the Clay County Supervisors, I presented to the supervisors, the Clay County auditor and Assistant County attorney, credible evidence, consisting of detailed exhibits and transcript, to show that the spreadsheet created by the private engineering firm and used to calculate the remonstrance of Jan. 14, contained a fatal formula error, the result of which was that 384.7 objection acres were not counted. That error, combined with other errors made in regard to ownership, made the difference between a supposed failed remonstrance and a successful remonstrance. I made the presentation with every hope that at least one of those present would care about the truth. To date, not one of the officials present at that meeting has even made any acknowledgement of the information, except that at a later meeting, initiated by me, Clay County Auditor Pitts indicated it had been passed along to the attorney in charge of the litigation and to the private engineer who created the spreadsheet. There has been no indication that the interests of the 59.77% of the landowners who objected have been taken into consideration; only three of those landowners are involved in the litigation, and that litigation arose out of awareness that the calculation of the objection acres on Jan. 14 was not correct.

A request for a meeting of DD 37 had been made to Auditor Pitts in advance of the May 7 Clay County Board of Supervisors meeting. Assistant County Attorney Sackett contacted one of the persons making that request and informed him that under no circumstances would the Clay County Supervisors take any action at such meeting, and subsequently it was learned that no meeting of DD 37 would take place on May 7. The Clay County Supervisors say they cannot take any action because they have been told by their attorney not to, citing pending litigation, but on select issues, such as accepting engineers’ reports and setting the date for bid letting, they continue to take action. They have demonstrated a sincere regard for the private engineering firm — which is anything but “disinterested” as required by Iowa Code 468.10 — yet disregard the interests of the citizens and landowners of Clay County, whom they were elected to represent. Over 50% (59.77% by calculation at remonstrance) of the landowners of DD 37 objected to the improvement project at the Jan. 14 hearing.

All of the recommendations presented by the engineer are extreme and costly. The recommendation for improvement openly states that subsequent to the completion of the project, “We recommend that the district annex all of the approximately 56,960 acres of benefited lands not in the district. The decision to pursue annexation would best be made after the district makes the decision at public hearing to construct the necessary repair, the recommended improvement, or nothing. Annexation should then be completed prior to levying the cost of the major repair or improvement.” This recommendation was made under the assertion that annexing is the same as guaranteeing that the annexed acres would pay a significant part of the improvement project. Almost all of the annexed acres are in Dickinson, Palo Alto, and Emmet counties, and flow into Trumbull Lake, which is owned and controlled by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. While annexation is most likely a certainty under Iowa Drainage Code 468, there is NO guarantee that the supervisors of those counties will agree to the lands in those counties being assessed for anything more than a 1% benefit, potentially leaving Clay County landowners responsible for 99% of the cost of a project that has already been completed.

Over 50% of the persons and corporations owning property in DD#37 (not just “three or four” as stated in the article) have petitioned for private trusteeship, as provided under Iowa Code 468 Subchapter III Part 2. Although private trusteeship of DD 37 would be the first in Clay County, this is similar to many other drainage districts across Iowa. Private Trustees are elected by all persons and corporations owning land in the district. They have the same rights and responsibilities as the supervisors in their capacity as trustees, including the right to consult experts, such as engineers and attorneys.

It is acknowledged that repairs are needed, including removing trees from the drainage ditch so that flow is not impaired, and repairing county tiles. Making those necessary repairs is very different from the proposals of the engineers, which call for removing all trees and shrubs in a 300-foot work area, and leveling all of the spoil that has been along the banks since the ditch was established in 1916. The engineers’ own report states “the open ditch bottom is consistently near the original design elevation. This is unusual and is likely the result of nearly all sediment being captured in Trumbull Lake so the water flowing from the lake into the ditch is relatively free of sediment.” The original ditch, per the 1916 engineer’s report, was 12 feet wide. It is already, by acts of nature, significantly wider than that along most of the six miles in the district.

Countless appeals have been made to the Clay County Supervisors to stop their actions, but to no avail. Supervisor Matthews was quoted as saying “it’s going to cost them $600 an acre. Yet, I made that decision and made it knowing it was in the best interest of that district.” That $600 an acre might very well be a conservative estimate. The actions of the Clay County Board of Supervisors are not in the best interests of DD 37, but rather in the interests of a private engineering company. The continued non-action in regard to the litigation and remonstrance is beneficial only to the attorneys involved, the fees of which will be entirely borne by the landowners of DD 37. Please, please, please! Think of what you are doing! The citizens of Clay County are being fleeced and are powerless to stop it.

— Connie Swan, Dickens