Humboldt sups discuss drainage with UP reps


DAKOTA CITY – The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors met with representatives of Union Pacific Railroad Co. Monday to discuss a drainage repair in Drainage District 114 southwest of Livermore.

The project dates back to 2009 when a problem was discovered in a tile under railroad tracks southwest of Livermore.

Ultimately, the repairs were completed through the county late last year and Union Pacific was billed for part of the cost.

Drainage Engineer Rick Hopper of Jacobson-Westergard & Associates, of Estherville, said the drainage tile was collapsed in two places under the railroad tracks.

“We were losing crops south of the east crossing,” he said.

The problem was also causing flooded basements in Livermore, he said.

In April 2010, Supervisor Chairman Carl Mattes sent a letter to Union Pacific asking about the status of the repair.

To his knowledge, no response was ever received from the railroad, he said.

Supervisor Harlan Hansen said the board informed Union Pacific in 2012 they had 30 days to reply or the county would proceed with the repairs.

“We told them it was an emergency situation. They had 30 days to respond,” he said. “We had the mayor of Livermore and citizens complaining that water was backing up into their basements.”

Robert Belt , Union Pacific assistant vice president of law, asked the board Monday if the railroad was included in the notices sent to landowners about public hearings on the repair.

The cost of the repair was about $91,600 of which Union Pacific received assessments totaling $86,000.

“That means Union Pacific is being assessed 92 percent of the repair,” he said. “We have no idea of how this was assessed.”

Belt also asked of what benefit the repair was to the railroad because the tile drains farmland, not railroad property.

“The work in the railroad right of way was basically what the railroad bill was prepared for,” Hopper said.

Hopper said age, vibrations, and the weight of trains over the years likely caused the collapse of the tile. Also, ballast dumped by the railroad at the site to stop erosion further blocked the tile, he said.

Supervisor Jerry Haverly said the tile does not benefit the railroad directly but it is how the landowners get their water drained. If the tile was under a county road, the county would be responsible for the repair, he said.

“It benefits the whole community. It benefits everybody that partners in the community,” he said. “We produce agricultural products and these products are delivered by the railroad. We have a vested interest to work together and I think that is what we should be doing.”

Haverly felt the biggest problem was a lack of communication between the board and the railroad.

“A lot of the issues could be resolved by better communication before the railroad gets a bill they don’t understand,” he said.

Brad Epperly, an attorney representing Union Pacific, said the railroad will review the county drainage records, consult with the county drainage attorney and schedule another meeting with the board.

“We really thought we had jumped all the hurdles, done everything that was required,” Mattes said. “We thought we were within the law.”

Haverly said the county has nothing to hide and would cooperate fully with the request.

“We haven’t done anything differently that what we’ve done in the past,” he said.