Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Government's control of property rights goes only so far

Again, the entire aspect of government control over land rights in a fuzzy area. Take, for example, my parents who are small farmers in southern Minnesota who own 200 acres of land. It was about ten years ago (maybe more) when they acquired adjoining land and wished to clear the drainage ditch abutting their property. After surveying and visiting with other landowners, my parents went ahead with obtaining the proper permits (yes, permits for a private waterway, this is not classified as a 'judicial ditch').

Once the nearly year-long battle was done, we had the permits along with their stipulations. We could not remove any of the trees and could only disturb one side of the ditch bank.

This was meant with resistance from my dad and myself. I was steaming mad that the government, on any level, could tell us what to do and what not to do with fifty or so scrub-like cottonwood trees that were impeding the flow of water from land we owned upstream.

The argument from the SWCD office was that the trees provided wildlife habitat as well as prevented erosion along the quarter-mile length of ditch in question. While arguing that we planned to plant a 30-foot wide buffer strip of natural grasses as well as use the dirt from the cleaning to install a berm, we were still told that the trees were to stay.

This is when my dad stepped things up, meeting with property owners along much of the upstream and downstream portion of the waterway, a hydrologist and surveying company as well as numerous meetings again with the SWCD offices.

The land owners were giddy (as giddy as downtrodden formers get) that someone was finally doing something with one of many neglected portions of this drainage ditch. It would improve waterflow for those owning land upstream as well as spur downstream land owners to improve their water handling capacity. And it did.

This, however, only happened after the county and local townships agreed to improve the bridges and culverts through which the growing drainage ditch passed.

Oh, and those trees which we found out were mostly rotted. They fell victim to a long, hot summer with a cable, a few log chains and a tractor. When we informed the SWCD office of completion of the project, they visited for an inspection and commented on the effective berm and buffer strip and never made mention of the disappearing trees. (To be fair, we did leave a hundred or so trees untouched in an area that had never been farmed abutting the ditch in question but did create an access path for maintenance, the wildlife lives on.)

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