It's a lake view that would make most owners envious, but unfortunately for Andrea Ty Whiting-Ratajczak and her Bass Road neighbors, it's standing water from an 84-year-old drain. Andrea says the problem has grown in the 17 years she's lived on the property.
"it impacts what we can do with the horses, we lost 1/3rd of our hay crop. We're just not able to utilize all of the land", said Whiting-Ratajczak.
It can take several weeks for the water to go down, causing a mosquito problem for her Free Wind Farm. The flooding also impacts a number of farmers in the area, including neighbor Merle Bueker, his longtime family farm lost nearly 1/3rd of his 50 acres.
"We hit a brick wall when we go to the county because there's no money and the cost is exorbitant, something has to be done, because we're floating away out here and it's only getting worse", said Bueker.
These neighbors have been working with the county for over a decade to find a solution. We met with Surveyor Al Frisinger, who shared his stack of information on the The Noyer Drain. The agriculture drain was installed in 1928. While it's not owned by the county, it is regulated, under county jurisdiction. However, there's no county fund for such repair, so the cost falls on the homeowners impacted. Frisinger says there are drains throughout the county in this stage of repair. A drainage board, made up of himself and 3 County Commissioners could make a determination to move forward with a project. A process he says is very well laid out in Indiana code.
"property owners don't need to be on board the way state law is drafted. The drainage board makes a determination of benefits and damages. If the benefits exceed the damages, they shall approve", said Frisinger.
If plans move forward, a public hearing will be held. The estimated cost of the project could exceed $300,000, or an estimated $2,000 to $40,000 per property owner, depending on their land size. For some farmers, getting more of their crops back may ease the blow. Ty-Whiting is hopeful she won't see this for much longer.
"I want to see a notice, go the hearing and start saving my pennies to pay for my share"
Construction could start as early as the fall, if the drainage board approves the improvement. Since the county uses a limited fund to pay for the work up front, they must target projects based on need.
The county pays for the work from a "general drainage fund" and property owners then pay their respective amounts. They have five years to pay, if not paid by the first year, there is a 10% interest fee charged. The bill is sent as an assessment, but is treated like a property tax bill, meaning any property owner that would choose not to pay would be treated in the same way, resulting in a lien on the property.
Frisinger also said there are cases where a homeowner may be asked to pay more of the costs, if it's determined that their property is attributing more to the drainage problem.
Meanwhile, these neighbors will wait to see when they can get their land back, and more importantly, at what cost. Early estimates show each impacted property owner would pay a little over $400/acre.
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