Judge rules in favor of Drainage Authority in Sibley ditch lawsuit

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Farm Forum

GAYLORD — A Sibley County District Court judge has ruled in favor of the Joint Drainage Authority in an appeal made by a Winthrop couple seeking more than $285,000 in damages they said their farm suffered as a result of the Ditch Authority’s maintenance work on a ditch running through their property.

Judge Timothy Looby denied the appeal made by Shane and Sarah Anderson for compensation for their land and trees in a ruling issued on Aug. 8, deeming the $3,574 in damages previously determined by the Joint Drainage Authority to be appropriate. Looby also limited the attorney fee award to $7,704, well below the nearly $80,000 the Andersons requested.

The Andersons argued they should have been compensated $285,693 for 1.4 acres of land that includes the ditch and the adjacent area where a thick grove of trees was removed, as well as $79,104 in attorney fees.

The authority began the work in 2013 because the ditch, which runs through the Andersons’ 14-acre property in Transit Township, was clogged with trees and sediment and not operating efficiently, said John Kolb, an attorney who represented the Drainage Authority.

Attorneys for the Andersons argued the Ditch Authority failed to obtain the proper easements and heedlessly cut down about 130 trees, reducing the property’s value and marring the Anderson’s tranquil hobby farm about 8 miles from Gaylord.

In November 2014, a Sibley County District Court judge sided with the Andersons over the taking of property and ordered the Drainage Authority to appoint viewers to assess and report on damages. The viewers for the Drainage Authority determined the $3,574 figure, which sparked the appeal.

“Without meeting their burden and proving a more accurate measure of damages, such as a reliable appraisal, the viewer’s determination of the damages must remain,” the ruling said.

The judge also rejected an argument lawyers made about triple damages for the trees, saying the Drainage Authority cannot be legally considered a “trespasser” because it has an implied easement due to its statutory duty to maintain it.