CAVALIER -- Landowners packed a small room in the Pembina County Law Enforcement Center in Cavalier on Tuesday to voice concerns about a water drainage project, which is estimated to cost more than $750,000.
About 30 people attended the meeting held by the Pembina County Water Resource District Board. The hearing was held to give information about the project and to listen to the concerns of landowners who would be affected by Drain 81. According to North Dakota law, a hearing must be held before the July 22 voting deadline on the drainage project.
The Pembina County Water Resource District Board is required to hold a hearing whenever it receives a petition for drainage that is signed by five landowners, said Rob Fleming, attorney for the Water Resource Board. Landowners who signed the petition are David Moquist, Robert Schulz Farms, Baldwin Farms Inc., Brent Baldwin, Warren Hall, Douglas Whelan and Jeffrey Whelan.
“It’s your drain,” Fleming said. "If you vote it ‘up,’ it’s up. If you vote it ‘down,’ it’s down,” he said.
Landowners who own acreage within the boundaries of the drainage project will pay for it through tax assessments. The project will cost an estimated $780,000 and cover slightly more than 6,000 acres of land. The estimated average cost of the landowners’ assessment is about $120 per acre.
Some landowners at the meeting questioned whether the drainage project would cause more water problems down the line, but Daniel Fischer, a Langdon engineer hired by the Pembina County Water Resource District Board to study the project, said it would alleviate them. Factors, including the size of the culverts, amount and speed of the water flow and slope of the land, were taken into consideration when the drainage ditch was designed, Fischer said.
Besides concerns about the potential for the ditch to exacerbate flooding, landowners at the meeting also were upset that they weren’t informed earlier about the drainage project, which was requested by the petitioners about two years ago.
“You told us just now you should take out time and study the project. We knew nothing of this before,” said Agnes Heuchert, an area landowner who viewed a detailed map of the drainage project for the first time at the Tuesday gathering.
But it is not the job of the engineer or the Water Board to tell the landowners about the project prior to the hearing, Fischer said. Instead, it’s the responsibility of the people who signed the petition requesting the drainage project, he said.
“The guys who signed the petition needed to go around and talk to people,” said Fischer, adding that everyone who owns land which will be assessed for the project has a stake in it.
“This is not my project. It is not the board’s project. It’s the project of everyone in this room,” Fischer said.
Some people at the meeting believe that the outcome of the vote is a foregone conclusion because the landowners who signed the petition have more acreage than the ones who are opposed to it. As a result, they get more votes.
However, some landowners opposed to the drainage project indicated after the meeting they weren’t finished expressing their concerns and planned to pursue other avenues of protest.