The Osakis City Council held its monthly meeting inside the Ed Pollard Community Center in front of a large crowd.
About 80 people gathered for the main event of the night, the discussion about Judicial Ditch 2 (JD2) maintenance that will take place over the next decade starting in 2020.
In July of 2001, The Sauk River Watershed District implemented a water quality project for Lake Osakis. Included in those plans were two sediment ponds along JD2 in Todd County on the west side of the lake.
The ponds collect thousands of tons of sediment that would runoff into the water. SRWD removed approximately 17,600 yards of sediment this past winter.
During a SRWD meeting in 2018, the board of directors passed a motion to assess the JD2 sedimentation ponds at $650,000. This money pays for the removal of sediment from last winter, along with future maintenance and inspection costs.
In April of 2019, SRWD passed another motion that included an assessment over a 10-year period beginning in 2020 with an annual interest rate of 2.5 percent.
Some citizens received a letter notifying them about the tax. Assessments will vary widely, depending on the value of the property, and will be added to property taxes in 2020. An example of the highest amount on a parcel in Douglas County is $3,696. The assessment on an average home in Osakis will be about $400 to $500.
Scott Henderson and Sarah Jo Boser from the SRWD presented the plans to attendees at the meeting. It was not a public hearing. However, the council allowed for questions and comments from the audience.
One woman asked, “Why are the farmers and everybody putting the sediment in (the lake) not being assessed?” Henderson responded by explaining that the benefit of a water quality project is seen most by people who live downstream; therefore, they have to pay for it.
Another man asked what would happen if the SRWD left the ponds alone for the next 20 years. Henderson said they aren’t allowed to leave it alone because they are contractually obligated to keep working on the project. He did not answer as to what would happen if the SRWD didn’t do any further maintenance on the ponds.
One man asked, “You know that this cleanup comes every 10 years, sometimes every five years according to your data. Do you have zero dollars for this? How are you willing to assess all that money to the taxpayers? How is that good fiscal responsibility?” Henderson acknowledged that the SRWD is not fiscally responsible for the project. The SRWD has plans to construct a new building that costs roughly $1.8 million but will not be paying any of the assessment costs for JD2. The resident also asked about other projects that the SRWD was working on in different areas and if they were comparable to the one on Lake Osakis. Henderson said they are smaller assessments.
The final question of the night was presented by a man who asked, “What percentage of water from JD2 goes through the sediment ponds for treatment?” Henderson explains that it depends on the flow from the drainage system. If it’s a high flow, the ponds will clean around 40 percent of the water from JD2, whereas a lower level of water will clean much less.
Residents took 21 turns at the microphone, asking questions and making statements before the microphone was returned to the city council. One of the other concerns that was presented was the lack of notification. Many people did not receive a letter in the mail about JD2 maintenance. This was because SRWd used a mailing list form 2012 by accident.
There was a meeting last Tuesday at the SRWD in Sauk Centre and Oakis residents were encouraged to attend. Councilmember Justin Dahlheimer talked about the possibility of hosting another meeting with the board in Osakis so more people could give feedback in the future.
There were two more points of interest on the agenda. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has informed the city that there will be an informational meeting about the upcoming plans for Highway 27. The construction will take place from Highway 82 to Highway 71. The meeting will take place at the community center from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 20.
Next month’s city council meeting will be on the first Monday of the month, Nov. 4, because Veterans Day is Nov. 11.