Proposed change in county ditch’s jurisdiction

A five-mile county ditch will soon be under the control of the Coon Creek Watershed District.

The Anoka County Board got the ball rolling March 26 by holding a mandated public hearing on the transfer of responsibility of County Ditch 17, also known as Springbrook Creek. No one appeared.

The board’s Public Works Committee April 1 recommended approval of the transfer and the county board at its next meeting April 9 is scheduled to take action to approve the order for the watershed district to take over jurisdiction of the ditch, effective immediately.

Springbrook Creek is the principal storm water outlet for some 5.4 miles of residential, commercial and industrial land in Blaine, Coon Rapids, Fridley and Spring Lake Park.

It was established in 1892 following a landowner’s petition to the county board.

According to a letter to the county from Tim Kelly, Coon Creek Watershed District Board manager, back in 1959 the county board transferred to the watershed district all county public drainage ditches within the district’s boundaries, giving the watershed district the power to repair, maintain and improve them.

Until last year, Springbrook Creek was under the jurisdiction of the Six Cities Watershed Management Organization (WMO), which has dissolved.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources in 2012 added 15 square miles of Blaine, Coon Rapids, Fridley and Spring Lake Park, which had been part of the Six Cities WMO to the Coon Creek Watershed District.

This included County Ditch 17 (Springbrook Park), but it requires county board action for the watershed district to assume control of the management of the ditch.

“The ditch has suffered from a lack of maintenance and oversight leading to a host of flooding and water quality problems and interfering with development and redevelopment,” Kelly wrote in his letter to the county.

“The district wishes to acquire all the tools necessary to adequately assume management responsibility for the ditch…”

According to Doug Fischer, county highway engineer, the creek originates north of 99th Avenue in Blaine travels under Highway 10, passes through the Northtown Mall area, crosses Highway 47 into Coon Rapids, then goes under East River Road into the Mississippi River in Fridley.

As a metropolitan watershed district, the Coon Creek Watershed District, under state law, has the powers and duties over the works of the district, including the public ditch systems, Kelly wrote in his letter to the county.

The district has parts of seven cities within its boundaries – Andover, Blaine, Coon Rapids, Columbus, Fridley, Ham Lake and Spring Lake Park.

Its mission, according to its website, is to manage groundwater and surface water drainage systems to prevent property damage, maintain hydrologic balance and protect water quality for the safety and enjoyment of citizens and the preservation and enhancement of wildlife habitat.

It has a professional staff and a five-member board of managers appointed by the county board. Meetings of the board take place the second and fourth Mondays of the month at Bunker Hills Activity Center.

The district levies an annual property tax on properties within the district’s boundaries.

Coon Rapids, Blaine, Columbia Heights, Fridley, Hilltop and Spring Lake Park joined together to organize the Six Cities WMO in 1982 to deal with water quantity and quality issues.

But state regulations governing WMOs changed and required a higher level of management to comply with quality rules, which resulted in increased financial obligations of the Six Cities WMO and its projects, according to Coon Rapids City Manager Steve Gatlin.

The WMO did not have legislative authority to levy for its operational costs and in 2010, the cost to the respective cities went up because of state mandates,  leading to the decision to dissolve, Gatlin said.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]