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GRANITE FALLS — One of Yellow Medicine County’s largest ditches is facing environmental scrutiny from a statewide advocacy group.

County Ditch 9, which runs from St. Leo to the Minnesota River near Granite Falls is currently seeing a petition by landowners for improvements. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy is challenging the proposal, arguing that it will cause problems downstream of rivers.

The advocacy group presented a list with objections. One objection states that the ditch project would worsen hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Yellow Medicine County Board, County Ditch 9’s ditch authority, held a meeting to discuss the objections. After a long discussion, the board voted 4-1, to send a request for more details.

Gary Johnson, the Commissioner who cast the sole vote to not send the letter, asked if the concerns are related to Ditch 9.

“We shouldn’t have to respond to general statements,”Johnson said. “They aren’t being specific about Ditch 9 because it’s more than a Ditch 9 issue to them. They want to restrict drainage everywhere.”

Johnson stated that he supports working with other Minnesota counties in order to change laws so that comments on ditch projects are required to address the issue at hand.

He suggested that multi-county, joint powers groups could be an option. Another possibility is to work together with the Association of Minnesota Counties as well as state legislators.

John Kolb from St. Cloud, an attorney specializing in drainage, was present at the meeting.

He advised the board to respond to the concerns since it’s the next logical step in the evaluation process for the ditch project. He stated that a lack of response would cause delays in the improvements.

“There’s a need to demonstrate an effort to gather facts,”Kolb said. “If we don’t respond at all, they’d go to court for an injunction and we’d lose. The project would definitely be delayed.”

Johnson agreed with Johnson’s suggestion that Johnson should provide factual evidence of a connection between Ditch 9 conditions and those downstream of it.

“They (the Center for Environmental Advocacy) should have to prove something,” said Commissioner Greg Renneke. “We all know that water flows downstream and eventually ends up in the Gulf. They need to show that a Ditch 9 improvement would make a difference, that it would somehow make things worse.”

Chris Belfany, Yellow Medicine County Ditch Inspector, stated that the advocacy group will ultimately have to decide how to proceed with its objections after the meeting.

“A similar situation in Renville County recently ended up in court,”Belfany stated. “There’s a potential for that with Ditch 9. So far the permitting process is just in the early stages.”

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