SIOUX CITY | The Woodbury County Board on Tuesday shut the door on substantial repairs to better drain flat farmland south of Sergeant Bluff.

Landowners in the Orton Slough Drainage District in recent weeks had sought that outcome, as proposed improvements they would have paid for got too costly.

"I didn't want to spend more money on something we can't afford," Denny Brouillette, a Salix, Iowa, resident said after the meeting.

Estimated costs for the project rose to $1 million. Although a substantial repair won't happen, district residents in 2015 will likely discuss a small cleanout of existing infrastructure, which could cost $25,000 to $30,000.

Leo Jochum, of Salix, said he and a few Orton Slough property owners had spoken with County Engineer Mark Nahra since 2009 about repairs in the 2,300-acre tract. The issue heated up in late 2013, when the county hired a consultant, I&S Group, of Storm Lake, Iowa.

The County Board members also act as trustees for the Orton Slough Drainage District. They have overseen the repair investigation, holding a few meetings in Salix and discussing the topic in County Board meetings.

During the Tuesday meeting, the board received a list of 22 opposing landowners representing 1,742 acres of the 2,300-acre district. They then voted unanimously to kill the project.

There are 34 tracts in the district. District landowners would have split the costs.

The initial options laid out by I&S Group included creating a wide ditch and more underground piping. The estimated cost for digging a ditch was $432,224, compared with $787,786 for adding underground pipes.

However, updated repair plans were created after people said they were concerned changes could harm the water flowing into Brown's Lake, near Salix. Those safeguards moved the cost estimate for the ditch to $716,915 and the underground pipes to nearly $1.05 million.

Jochum said he could support Orton Slough repairs if they were at the affordable rate of $150 per acre. But the costs rose to nearly $450 per acre.

"It just didn't make economic sense," Jochum said.

Nahra provided an updated total of fees paid to I&S Group, which now stand at $49,700. Consulting work done in September and October hasn't been added in. All those fees will be paid by Orton Slough landowners, not the county, Nahra said.

Jochum said the studies weren't in vain. He said it will be good to approach the issue with a fresh perspective in 2015.

"I come away from it with a good feeling and look forward to the meeting," Jochum said.

County Board Chairman George Boykin, of Sioux City, agreed that it appears likely that Orton Slough landowners won't balk at low-cost cleanouts.

Iowa has 3,000 drainage districts covering roughly one-fourth of the state. District trustees – typically, county boards of supervisors – form rural drainage districts at the request of landowners who want levees for flood protection and outlets to drain water.

The last substantial Orton Slough repairs were made in 1984, when piping was extended and the ditch was cleared.

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County and education reporter

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