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Hancock County approves new policy amidst numerous ditch-cleaning requests

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Hancock County supervisors approved a new policy pertaining to county ditch cleaning on July 11.

“It spells out how we operate, who gets dirt, and who pays for it,” said county engineer Jeremy Purvis, who drafted and recommended passage of the new policy and procedures.

The entirely new policy places the burden on the county to pay for necessary ditch cleaning related to roadway drainage to help maintain the secondary road system.

“The unwritten policy in the past has been that any ditch cleaning requests were paid for by the requestee,” Purvis said. “The new policy states, if the ditch cleaning is going to help improve our roads or solve problems caused to downstream or upstream landowners, the county is going to be responsible for the costs. Each request is on a case-by-case basis, and priority is determined by the county as funds are available. I’d rather have a policy in writing than what was done previously.”

The policy establishes the way the county will perform both ditch cleaning and related tile installation work. It also provides means for requesting ditch cleaning, use of the excavated material, complaint handling, and public relations practices. The program will address roadside improvements such as ditch fills for landscaping to allow mowing of ditches, prevention of farming within the right-of-way area, and processing of requests for house and tile drain outlets.

Requests for participation in the county ditch cleaning program may come from county secondary road staff, the board of supervisors, property owners, tenants, and soil conservation staff. Sites will all be reviewed by the county engineer and secondary road staff and prioritized by the county engineer. The determination by the engineer and staff will be final, regarding priority for ditch cleaning.

Property owners may hire private contractors to perform ditch cleaning work on ditches adjacent to their property. However, the property owner must first obtain a work-in-the-ROW permit from the Hancock County Secondary Road Department prior to completing any work, which will be inspected.

Soil removed from ditches during ditch cleaning will be used to best meet the needs of Hancock County, according to the policy. One of the goals of this program is to retain soil on the original property and work with property owners to avoid and prevent erosion.

Under the policy, first priority for use of soil excavated from the ditches will be for secondary road department use for driveway, road grade building, and other construction and road-related purposes. Other requests for excavated soil will only be considered after secondary road needs are met. Second priority for use of material excavated from ditches will be to return the material to the adjacent property.

Then, other parties requesting excavated soil may have the material hauled to them by county road crews. Priority shall be given to persons requesting material who are willing to pay for hauling costs.

“If someone is two miles away and it is 10 miles to our pit, we’re going to get rid of it faster,” Purvis said. “I’ve been getting a lot of requests for ditch cleaning.”

Complaints of upstream soil loss and deposition on downstream property by private property owners will be directed to the Hancock County Soil and Water Conservation District. Hancock County does not require or recommend that property owners mow the ROW area adjacent to their property. However, landowners desiring to do so will not be prohibited from mowing the ROW area unless it is a designated prairie planting area. If property owners desire to flatten a backslope to allow mowing, the property owner must request and obtain a work-in-the-ROW permit from Hancock County Secondary Roads and have the site reviewed.

The policy also addresses tile outlets, tile outlet structures, and tile crossings, as well as septic system nuisance complaints and house drain outlets, in the county’s roadside ROW areas.

“I feel like maintaining ditches and our right-of-way is something our crews should be doing,” said Purvis, noting that some circumstances stem from landowner issues, such as soil erosion, which would need to be addressed.

RAGBRAI preparation

Purvis also informed supervisors that, on July 27, RAGBRAI will proceed on old Highway 18 despite bridge construction that is in process near Hutchins. He also said that county secondary roads crews would be mowing along the RAGBRAI route through Hancock County within the next week.

A temporary construction bridge structure will allow bike riders to cross on old 18. Merryman Bridge Construction will assume liability for the use of its temporary structure there during RAGBRAI. Purvis said he heard that the company has done it before over the Cedar River.

“They drive their excavators and cranes over it,” Purvis said. “Merryman is taking liability. The other side of it is that something bad could happen on Highway 18 (if the route was changed), because that’s just a lot of traffic.”

Purvis also said that crews recently shaved bumps off pavement on old Highway 18 and would repair a bumpy railroad crossing in Klemme in advance of RAGBRAI.

ATV ordinance revisions 

Supervisors also approved changes to a county ordinance permitting the limited operation of all-terrain vehicles and off-road utility vehicles on county secondary roads. County attorney Blake Norman said the revisions stemmed from a recent law change for the use of the ATVs. He said that under the new law, the county cannot restrict time of day that they are operated. The prior version of the ordinance only allowed ATV use on county secondary roads from dawn to dusk.

Norman said, under this ordinance, ATV drivers cannot travel on a primary highway, but can cross one via the most direct route. He also noted that in addition to being 18 years of age, ATV drivers in Hancock County must continue to operate with headlights at all times and have registration and insurance.

The updated ordinance also provides Hancock County Secondary Roads with the ability to close roads for limited times for various circumstances such as RAGBRAI and fair traffic.

Drainage projects

Tyler Conley of Bolton & Menk provided supervisors with an engineering assessment on how to repair damages in drainage district 174 that resulted from nearly five inches of rain within one hour in mid-April. The discussion was during a formal landowner hearing.

“It was, more or less, just that bad in this drainage district and did it at one of the worst times,” said Conley, noting that rip rap was moved and banks significantly eroded there. He said the total cost of the project is $89,500 with additional rip rap and grouting, as well as bank shaping and restoration, accounting for a majority of the cost. Conley said it is hoped the project can be completed before winter and grass seeding done this fall with an estimated completion date of Dec. 15.

Supervisors approved plans and specifications for the drainage district 174 restoration project and set 10 a.m. on July 28 as the time for opening bids and 10 a.m. on Aug. 2 as the time to consider awarding a contract. Supervisors also set a 10 a.m. July 25 informal hearing with landowners for discussion of issues in drainage district 151.

In other business, supervisors:

  • Delayed action on approving construction plans, specifications, and form of contract for its proposed courthouse and law enforcement center HVAC upgrade project.
  • Delayed action on approving a price quote for air and heat equipment in the LEC. Sheriff Rob Gerdes and emergency response coordinator Andy Buffington noted concerns about a lack of windows or ventilation in the dispatch area in the event of high temperatures and humidity due to a breakdown of the existing system.

Editor's note: The Hancock County Engineer's Office provided information included in this article.

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