Janesville52.2°

Drainage ditch drama divides neighbors

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Catherine W. Idzerda
September 23, 2010
— If news out of Center Township were a soap opera, it’d be called “As the Drainage Ditch Turns.”

Or, more appropriately, “Guiding Water.”


Either way, it’s a complicated drama featuring angry neighbors, surface and subsurface water, plenty of police activity and a lawyer who has represented more than one side in the dispute.


With the help of Jim Stute, UW Extension Crops and Soils agent, and minutes from Rock County Drainage Board meetings, the conflict can be boiled down to these basics:


A culvert discovered

In 2007-08, the town of Center removed trees from part of Weary Road. In doing so, it unearthed a blocked culvert that officials didn’t know existed.


The north fields drained through the newly opened culvert to the fields on the south side, which are owned by drainage district board Chairman Chris Dickert. The land on the north side is rented/owned by Gordon Andrews, John and Sherry Crull, and others.


Previously, the road had served as a dam, keeping most of the water out of Dickert’s field, Stute explained.


To keep his newly flooded fields dry, Dickert built a berm on his side of the road, causing the northern fields to flood. But building a berm to change the flow of surface water is illegal.


Every flooded acre is one that can’t be planted, so neighbors to the north wanted the berm removed. Dickert wanted his fields in the same condition they were in before the hidden culvert was uncovered.


The talking continues.

Officials from the town of Center, the drainage board, the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, (DATCP) and the UW Extension met to discuss the issue.


Nobody really wanted to take responsibility, Stute said.


People started complaining at meetings that Edgerton attorney Jeff Roethe was representing both the town and the drainage board. They also complained about Dickert’s position on the drainage board, but Stute said Dickert steps down as chairman when the issue is discussed and doesn’t vote.


At one point, neighbors came onto Dickert’s land and removed the berm. The Rock County Sheriff’s Office got involved, and Dickert put the berm back.


Talking continues, two years in

In June 2010, John and Sherry Crull asked the drainage district board, in writing, to have the berm blocking surface drainage on Dickert’s property removed.


DATCP officials said the berm comes under the town’s jurisdiction. Under state law, towns have control over surface water regulations.


Roethe, the attorney for the town of Center, advised the town to take no action in the matter, so the berm remains.


The drainage board decided to take action and ordered engineering studies. Five plans were considered and deemed impractical or too expensive.


Things became sufficiently heated, so a Rock County deputy began attending drainage board meetings, Stute said.


Latest episode, more talking

Tuesday, the drainage board met again. About half of the conference room at the Rock County Courthouse was filled with hostile neighbors.


Dickert stepped down as drainage board chairman, pulled his chair back from the table and sat, mostly in silence, for most of the meeting.


Norman Tadt, senior conservation specialist with the Rock County Land Conservation Office, presented new ideas to handle the drainage problems, but the meeting quickly disintegrated.


After about an hour, the neighbors on one half of the room sat in murmured and not-so-murmured conversation, occasionally punctuated by remarks such as “Why don’t you take out that berm?” and “Why should we have to pay for that?”


At one point, Dickert was accused of sabotaging the culvert by filling it with concrete blocks.


A man announced to his neighbor he “would take that berm right out.”


Town of Center officials also were accused of not doing their duty and taking care of the culverts or removing the berm.


Every argument, dating back to the removal of the trees, was rehashed.


Wednesday, Stute reported the board was considering putting a drainage ditch on Dickert’s property. The ditch, which would be connected to the main drain, would cost about $14,000.


So who’s going to foot the bill?


“Decisions about who will pay for it will be made at a public hearing in October,” Stute said. “All of the effected landowners will be sent a letter informing them of the meeting.”



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