Orton Slough

Woodbury County Engineer Mark Nahra is shown Jan. 3 at County Road K45 and 250th Street north of Salix, Iowa. The flat land behind him is part of the Orton Slough, where the county may halt planning to provide better drainage.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

SIOUX CITY | The Woodbury County Board may walk away from proposals aimed at improving drainage from flat farmland south of Sergeant Bluff. County Board Chairman George Boykin, of Sioux City, in a Tuesday meeting said landowner opposition could halt the process before a final plan is picked.

Leo Jochum, of Salix, praised the delay.

"There is no way it is feasible. I am hoping we can stop the process," Jochum said.

The County Board declined to set a public hearing to decide on a plan for the 2,400 acres of poorly drained land in the Orton Slough Drainage District. The delay will allow Jochum time to compile a list of people who oppose the plan. He said he knows at least seven landowners owning more than 400 acres who oppose paying for the improvements.

The County Board members act as trustees making decisions about the drainage district. They began researching improvements in 2013, after County Engineer Mark Nahra said residents sought changes to reduce pooling after rains. The county hired I&S Group consultant Ivan Droessler, of Storm Lake, Iowa, to produce a list of fixes.

Droessler initially said digging a ditch would be the most affordable option. The estimated cost was $432,224, compared with $787,786 for adding underground pipes.

However, as the process played out over the summer, the County Board heard from district residents and others who were concerned changes could harm the water flowing into Brown's Lake, near Salix. The lake has many recreational uses.

To address those fears, Droessler included changes in his final report last week that increased costs by nearly $300,000. Steps to address Brown's Lake water quality concerns included enhancements to district wetlands and placing large rocks to trap dirt coming off farm fields.

Those steps moved the cost estimate for the ditch to $716,915 and the underground pipes to nearly $1.05 million.

"The costs really started to climb," Nahra said.

Drainage district residents pay for the costs of improvements. There are 32 landowners in the Orton Slough district.

Nahra said it is unfortunate the county wasn't approved in April for a $300,000 state grant that could have reduced the financial impact on district landowners.

Boykin and County Board member Mark Monson, of Sergeant Bluff, said they didn't want to push an unwanted repair onto Orton Slough landowners.

"It hasn't been easy to get this far," Monson said.

Jochum will bring a list of opponents to a County Board meeting by the end of October. He predicted a strong majority of landowners will sign off as opponents.

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County and education reporter

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