Lost ditch efforts


The front and side yards of Michael Rizor’s Industrial Parkway home continue to flood, as shown in the photo above. He says a ditch is not maintained properly and is to blame for the flooding. Officials from the Union Soil and Water Conservation District say they do not have the time or money to maintain many of the county’s ditches.
(Photo submitted)
Michael Rizor is a busy man.
He has a family, runs his own trucking business and enjoys his free time. He also tries to keep his property maintained.
That said, Jeremey Burrey is also a busy man. Burrey is the Drainage Maintenance Supervisor at the Union Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). He alone is in charge of monitoring, inspecting, assessing and maintaining the basins, ponds and streams along with the nearly 70 miles of ditches in the county.
One of those ditches, the Sugar Run Ditch in Jerome Township, runs through Rizor’s property. Late last month, Rizor’s property flooded, as it often does. A day earlier he had paid hundreds of dollars to a landscaper to help him clean up and get his property “looking immaculate” after the last flood.
“I had everything perfect and things, then the water comes out of this ditch because they won’t fix it,” Rizor said.
Overnight rain brought the water back. It always does, the homeowner explained.
“We’ve been here 20 some years, its been like that ever since,” Rizor said.
He spent the morning cleaning his yard. There was dirt, trash, grass cuttings, part of a shelving unit, sticks, a breadbox, even the top of a table.
“I am not one to gripe about anything, but I had enough,” Rizor said. “I went off the deep end.”
Rizor called the Union Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) as he has done repeatedly in the more than two decades he has lived on the property.
He added, “I don’t want to get anyone into trouble or anything, but I pay my taxes.”
Burrey said Rizor is not alone. He said his office receives several calls a week, more if it rains, from people frustrated by standing water and county ditches.
“You have to do what you have to do with the money and manpower and time you have,” Burrey said.
According to SWCD, what it has to do consists of mowing the ditches and promoting a 15-foot berm along the ditches for stability and maintenance access; spraying to prevent the trees, brush and noxious weeds; repairing tile outlets and erosion problems along banks; maintaining the proper ditch depth of ditches; and removing trees that have fallen in or across the ditches.
SWCD does have some money for the program. The county has established a special fund to maintain drainage ditches, like the Sugar Run Ditch. The fund receives money from ditch assessments, placed on property taxes in a watershed.
“It is a really complicated formula for determining how a property is assessed, but basically the more you use, the more you pay,” Burrey said. “And how you use it is a determining factor.”
More than that, Burrey explained, overall collection is capped at 20 percent of the cost to build the ditch. He said many of the ditches were built decades ago and the law does not allow for inflation.
He said there is a long and cumbersome process of adjusting that construction cost and raising the assessments a ditch, though it can really only be done every six years. Rizor said SWCD has gone through the process for the Sugar Run Ditch, and beginning next month, collections will increase.
“There is a lot of maintenance scheduled for that ditch, but I don’t have the funding yet,” Burrey said.
Rizor is very complimentary of Burrey. He said that over the years some of the people he has dealt with at SWCD have been very helpful and some have not, but they all say the same thing.
“They are always griping that they don’t have any money, but that’s what we pay taxes for,” Rizor said.
Rizor has for years paid $5 annually for his ditch assessment.
“Is it fair that all these other people have paid this money in and I am spending all of it on Mr. Rizor’s property?” Burrey asked. He added that it is still the property owner’s property and they can make improvements if they want.
Rizor has said he is willing to put up some of his own money if that will help. He recently agreed to buy several hundreds of dollars of field tile.
“That’s their responsibility, but I told them I would,” Rizor said.
County officials have agreed to do the work to replace the tile. Rizor said that while he doesn’t want to make the purchase, if that’s the only way to get the problem fixed, he is willing to do it. He also bought a Bush hog to mow the ditch he, and is planning to buy a tractor to pull it. He said he does try to mow at least a portion with his mower.
“They were supposed to mow it. They were supposed to Bushhog it, but they don’t do it,” Rizor said.
Burrey agreed there is more work to do, but said Rizor may have unreasonable expectations.
SWCD officials said money is an issue, but so is time. Burrey explained that the rural nature of the county, coupled with the growing number of houses poses a nearly unique challenge.
“Our responsibilities have more than doubled with all the subdivisions,” Burrey said.
In addition to ditches, Burrey is responsible for collection basins, retention ponds and culverts in subdivisions.
He said that in the last five years, keeping up with new petitions has become overwhelming. New petitions take priority because the state requires them to be addressed in a very specific timeframe. Burrey said this means some maintenance gets put off. Additionally, he said it is difficult to find time to go through the process of reevaluating ditches to see what needs done or if assessments can be raised.
“With the growth we are experiencing right now, it’s difficult to go back and look at these projects because of all the new growth we are working on,” Burrey said.
Over the next five years, Burry said his maintenance base will increase from $4.8 million to nearly $11.5. He said the county will go from 17 miles of conduit pipe and 343 catch basins to 39.5 miles of pipe and 650 basins.
SWCD is advertising for help, though Burrey fears even when help arrives, it will be some time before some things change.
“We get so far behind the eight ball on some of these, in order to get everyone together would take a lot of work and money,” Burrey said. “It will be challenging.”
Rizor said he understands challenging.
“We can’t drive down our driveway. We can’t park there. We can’t do anything,” Rizor said.
He added, “It’s pretty bad when you’ve got to use a boat to get to your house.”

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