As Cass County officials consider the role its secondary roads crews play in the removal of trees from roadside ditches and the clearing of ditches near County Right-of-Ways, to allow for better water flow and fewer obstructions along the roadways, the Board Supervisors were told by County Attorney Dan Feistner, Wednesday, that the County has the responsibility to handle the task, but the costs to do so can be levied against the property owner. Feistner cited Iowa Code Section 311.32, which pertains to the Administration and maintenance of roads in spelling out the County’s role. The Code says the fact that a right-of-way is donated by property owners for the establishment of a road or a portion of the cost of a road improvement is paid by property owners, does not preclude the Board of Supervisors from exercising its responsibility over the roads as secondary roads.
Questions have recently been raised recently over the responsibility private property owners have in clearing roadside ditches, versus what the County’s responsibility is, and whether or not the County can assess the costs to the affected property owners. Supervisor Chuck Rieken said when the County has cleaned the ditches in the past and removed trees, there was an understanding it would also take care of the initial spraying for noxious and obstructive weeds. Rieken says from that point on, the County intended for the property owner to take responsibility for taking care of the ditch. If the property owner allows re-growth of trees and weeds, he says it should be their responsibility to take care of it.
Rieken says the same thing applies to soil erosion. The County, he says, has never assessed individual property owners for the cleaning-up of soil erosion that fills ditches and creates problems, but it might need to take a look at that, as well. He says in previous years, the County has forked over up to $200,000 per year to clean-up the ditches on a recurring basis, because some landowners aren’t taking care of the problem. He says it would be nice if people would take care of their own ditches, and lessen the burden on their fellow taxpayers. Supervisor Frank Waters said part of the problem is with absentee land owners and their tenants, who don’t feel it’s their responsibility to clean the ditches.
Feistner says more research needs to be done on what ordinances other counties may have in place to deal with the ditch issues, before any action is taken in Cass County.