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Waters muddied for Harley Berger ditch

March 22, 2011

PLYMOUTH – Good intentions have muddied the waters for members of the watershed that feeds into the Harley Berger ditch in Walnut and Tippecanoe Townships in Marshall County.

The ditch is in need of maintenance to keep farm fields from being underwater and an earlier fix to the area’s water problems has made things a little complicated. Over the years residents in the area had done minor maintenance to the ditch and several years ago Ervin Imhoff – who is a farmer in the area – cut off part of the ditch and rerouted the water, essentially cutting off part of the watershed.

While his efforts fixed the problem in the area at his own expense – he failed to seek permission from the Marshall County Drainage Board, and the action has muddied the picture for the future in the area. While his action continues to work in the area, the question remains of who will fix the ditch if it fails in the future? And further still who will be responsible for the maintenance necessary on the rest of the ditch now?

Marcy Phillips owns property cut off by Ervin’s actions and while she is satisfied with how the fix functions now, she told the Board that she does not have the resources to maintain the drain on her property should it need it, and wants it to remain a public drain. Imhoff’s actions however make the drain on her property a private one, and actually place her in another watershed – water on her property now draining to a different place.

Imhoff for his part merely took a bad situation that he inherited on buying the property in 1996 and fixed it. He told the Board that he opened up the ditch in bad repair at thousands of dollars of his own expense in order to fix the problem of standing water. The fix has worked for all property owners in that area since.

Several other farmers in the area have made efforts to maintain the drain but in spite of that the open ditch portions (11,780 feet) are in need of repair and the five tile arms in the watershed are also needing attention. Marshall County Surveyor Larry Fisher estimated that to do all the work necessary in the watershed of over 1723 acres would be $8600 per year or an assessment of $5 per acre. He told the board that the cost could be decreased to $3 an acre if the tile portions were removed from the work.

Several farmers in the area requested that the board give them one year to clean the ditch themselves saying they thought they could save themselves and the county money on the proposed assessment. Fisher told the board that he felt that not putting the ditch on maintenance would simply cause more problems in the future should properties change hands or other changes occur in the area.

The fact is that something must be done. As Lyndon Bailey told the Board if the portion of tile that crosses the railroad on his property isn’t fixed, “…I’ll be drowned. I won’t even be able to get to my house.”

The Board voted to table action on the ditch to allow board members to visit the watershed to inspect it for themselves.

By Rusty Nixon