Drainage mediation could cost each landowner $200 per hour

Farm Forum

PIERRE – Participation in South Dakota’s new program for water drainage disputes is voluntary for landowners, but the mediation work won’t be free.

The filing fee to request mediation is proposed at $200 for the initiating landowner. If the nonrequesting side agrees to use mediation, the initial fee is also proposed to be $200.

Any other party that wants to intervene would also pay $200 under the plan.

If mediation occurs, the participating parties would split the mediator’s hourly costs, up to a maximum of $200 per hour, per party.

The mediators would need to first complete a 32-hour training course offered through the state Department of Agriculture.

Experienced mediators can request a waiver.

The department plans a public hearing July 30 in Pierre on the proposed rules. The hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Matthew Training Center, 523 E. Capitol Ave.

The Legislature approved two measures in the 2015 session establishing the drainage mediation services and creating a new regional river-basin approach for water management.

The legislation came from a regional watershed advisory task force that met during the past three years.

The prime sponsor of the mediation services bill was Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell. The prime sponsor of the river-basin management package was Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot.

Frerichs and Vehle managed the two measures through the Senate.

In the House, Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, led the effort. Gosch, the House Republican leader, chaired the task force. Vehle was the vice chairman.

Frerichs said on July 10 the proposed rules match the intent of the mediation legislation. He said the program is designed to operate on the fees paid by the participants.

“My hope is that the department will advertise the availability of this service and treat this new option much like the existing financial, federal-land disputes and oil/gas mediation programs,” Frerichs said.

“Keeping fellow agriculture producers out of the courtroom for these conflicts is a huge win for all of us,” he continued.

“I appreciate the work of the department to fulfill the law approved this past session even though they were reluctant to approach this often emotional issue,” Frerichs said.

The mediation services are to be coordinated through the department’s existing program for agriculture mediation.

The department will accept written comments on the proposed rules. Written comments must be received no later than Aug. 10.

The proposed rules are at on state government’s rules-hearing site,

The director of mediation would decide whether the drainage mediation request can move forward.

The director would mail a mediation notice to the nonrequesting party, who would have 20 days to respond in writing.

If the nonrequesting party doesn’t reply, after 20 days it would be assumed to have waived mediation, according to the proposed rules.

If the mediation goes forward, a public notice would be printed twice over two weeks in the designated newspaper in the county where the land is located.

The public notice would include instructions for third parties that wanted to intervene in the mediation.

The mediator assigned to the case would decide whether any third party would be allowed to intervene.

The mediation is to be completed within 90 days. A 30-day extension could be requested in writing.