By Justin Dahlheimer, president of Osakis First National Bank

Residents who own property in the City of Osakis recently received a letter from the Sauk River Watershed District (SRWD) notifying them of an assessment that will be placed on their properties stemming from the $650,000 of past and future maintenance at the sediment ponds located along Judicial Ditch 2 (JD2). I would assume most of us had the same reaction — “What? Why?”

The JD2 ponds are two sediment ponds located on the northwest side of Lake Osakis, near the intersection of County Road 10 and County Road 73. These ponds allow sediment to settle before the water in the flowing ditch eventually gets to Lake Osakis. The JD2 ponds were built in 2003 as a response to SRWD’s efforts to reduce the amount of total suspended solids (TSS) entering Lake Osakis at the culmination of a ditch that flows from Smith Lake. High levels of phosphorus attach to TSS, which is what jurisdictions are attempting to mitigate from entering our lake and affecting the water quality.

Why are property owners in Osakis paying for improvements to ponds located six miles from them? It was determined in 2002 (and redetermined in 2007) that property owners in the City of Osakis, as well as property owners on and near Lake Osakis, receive a benefit from the JD2 ponds helping improve the water quality in Lake Osakis, thus they should be assessed to help pay for that benefit. According to the 2002 Managers’ Determination of Benefits and Damages, “The City of Osakis and shoreline properties on Lake Osakis will directly benefit from the increased water quality to be achieved by the project. The City of Osakis and shoreline properties on Lake Osakis will generally benefit from the improvement of water transparency and reduction of phosphorus in Lake Osakis as a water source, source of commerce, a tourist/vacation destination, and as a sporting and recreation center.”

The SRWD is long overdue in redetermining the benefits provided by JD2. The City of Osakis has taken significant measures since 2002 to lessen its contribution to the TSS entering Lake Osakis. Storm water ponds have been added; we have been continuously monitoring our levels due to the scrutiny provided by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to ensure we are making the least impact possible on Lake Osakis. The City of Osakis and its residents have spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, in attempts to keep our water and our lake clean.

Can the same be said for SRWD, property owners of the agricultural land surrounding Lake Osakis, and the owners of lakeshore outside our city? This is the elephant in the room. Since 2008, all Minnesota taxpayers have been paying an increased sales tax, from which a percentage goes to the Clean Water Fund. Those funds are supposed to be utilized for projects like JD2. Agricultural runoff is another pollutant to Lake Osakis’ water quality, and the Farm Bill is supposed to be providing funds to mitigate the agricultural runoff that JD2 contains. Surrounding Lake Osakis with sanitary sewer would make a tremendous difference but would cost owners of that lakeshore.

The unequitable truth is that much of what is mentioned above is prevented because those efforts require making big investments and need coordination among government bureaucracy at all levels. Is it possible? Definitely. But it is much easier to assess property owners and put pressure on the City of Osakis because organizations like the SWRD and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have jurisdiction to do so.

I encourage affected property owners to attend the SRWD meeting (524 4th St. S in Sauk Centre) on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at 6 p.m., demand a redetermination of benefits be done. Many different groups of people benefit from clean water and our beautiful lake, and not everyone is paying their fair share nor are they doing all that is at their disposal.

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Osakis Voices is a rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.