Water board looks for cost-share
BY DANIEL ARENS
Although the water levels along County 27 north of Hazen, and the condition of the road in the area, have been a concern for Mercer County for some time, a recent accident along the road has propelled the situation to the forefront of the issues they address.
The county’s water board had already taken some work to address the road concern and drain water levels, but the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) took issue with the way the work was done and asked the board to either return the water levels to their original level or purchase a corresponding amount of land elsewhere that could be set aside for wetland preservation.
Last month, a truck lost control after strong winds began to blow water across the road, and cold temperatures turned the water to ice. The truck was driven by a local resident, who lost control. The truck tipped to its side along the edge of the road. No major injuries occurred.
Following consultation with USFWS representatives and the accident along the highway, an agreement was made that land would be purchased to offset the water lost from the drainage. At the November water board meeting, discussion rose about whether further drainage would be necessary. This would raise costs, since more land would need to be purchased for the added water level reduction, but the accident confirmed that it was the right choice to make.
Mercer County commissioners made a motion at their Dec. 16 meeting to encourage the water board to drain the water to four feet lower than it had been at the time when the concern was first addressed, which would mean another foot lower than the level it is currently drained to.
Commissioner Wes Gunsch, who attended the meeting, asked whether it might be possible to find easements on the east side of the road that might qualify for making up some of the drained wetland.
The second piece of the puzzle is determining how many acres of wetland are (or will be) lost in total, so that there is direction on how much needs to be purchased. A survey is planned for the spring to take accurate measurements, either from Interstate Engineering or another firm.
Kathy Baer, USFWS, has been communicating with both the county commission and water board to give advice and information about the process the federal service needs to go through. Baer agreed that, after the accident, it made sense to purchase acreage elsewhere rather than restore water levels near the road. The board hopes to contact Baer so it can confirm that USFWS is fine with another foot of drainage.
Neighboring landowners will also be contacted to see about the possibility of any having interest in water on their property being used as part of the agreement with USFWS.