Greene County to help fund defense against DMWW lawsuit

Source of funds not yet decided

The Greene County board of supervisors will provide funds for the legal defense of Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties against a lawsuit filed by the Des Moines Water Works, but it has not been determined where the funds will come from.

The supervisors on Monday unanimously approved a resolution calling for $5,000 a year for up to three years to be paid to the Iowa Drainage District Association. The IDDA will place the money in a fund to be disbursed to the three counties as requested to pay Belin McCormick Law Firm which, according to the resolution, is “to represent the interests of all drainage districts in Iowa.”

The supervisors have discussed the lawsuit several times and were in consensus from the start that Greene County should participate in funding the defense. On Monday, auditor Jane Heun questioned where the money should come from, saying that she met last week with several other county auditors who said the money should come from drainage district funds.

Drainage districts in Greene County assess property owners in each district 2.5 cents per acre to cover IDDA dues. Heun suggested that same method should be used to fund the county’s contribution for legal defense. “That’s something you need to consider. I heard some were taking it out of the rural fund, but others said no, that’s not right. There are a lot of opinions out there,” Heun said.

County drainage coordinator Michelle Fields responded, “I would agree that they are suing drainage districts, but if Des Moines Water Works is successful, I don’t know that the impact would be only on drainage district tile. I think it would be on everybody.”

Chair John Muir agreed. “It’s going to affect every landowner if it’s successful,” he said.

According to the resolution, which was provided in a joint letter from the three counties involved and the IDDA, “the suit would irreparably harm drainage rights, operations and row crop production in this county.”

George Naylor, Highland Township farmer and past president of the National Family Farm Coalition, was in attendance and asked Muir to explain, saying he was speculating. “I can only speculate to the point that we have to pay. We’re looking to contribute to the defense, and I think that every citizen in the county has a stake in it, whether they’re part of a drainage district or not. I may not be able to explain why I feel that way. I just feel like everybody, we’re all in the same boat on this if they’re successful,” Muir said. He added that fertilization of yards is also a consideration.

“I don’t own farm ground, but does that mean I shouldn’t be concerned about our water quality?” supervisor Dawn Rudolph said. “I am concerned about water quality even though I don’t own farm ground (but my family does). Water quality has to take everybody. I don’t care where you live. You have to be concerned about it and watch what you’re doing.”

Naylor addressed the board, saying that the volunteer nutrient reduction strategy now being used by farmers to reduce nitrate in the water is not working, and institutions like Iowa State University and the courts are not working in the best interest of the general population. He said he is not sure of the merits of the Des Moines Water Works’ lawsuit, but that “nobody is speaking up for we the people and our health, so somebody’s go to…” The lawsuit is “amied at a system that’s only working for a few people instead of we the people…” A transcript of Naylor’s comments is posted under the Opinion tab.

According to Muir, the regulations Des Moines Water Works is looking for are “ridiculously restrictive to agriculture” “I cannot make decisions with the fear in the back of my mind that under all good intentions I fertilize my fields, I do what I think is right… and something outside my control makes it seem that I’ve made the wrong decision,” Muir said.

Naylor said that voluntary nutrient reduction “is nothing but a smokescreen to let things go on the way they’re going now, to say ‘Oh, we don’t have to do anything.’ Well bologna, we don’t have to do anything. I’m not saying we want the DNR or the EPA or anyone else to come in and examine everything we do say we have to do it this way. I’m just saying something’s got to be done and a voluntary program isn’t the way to do it.”

Naylor said he has no opposition to county funds going to defense of the lawsuit, as he’s unsure of the merit of it and how future laws might read. “The spirit of whatever you do ought to be based on what’s important to we the people here in Greene County and our health, not simply what Farm Bureau and the commodity organizations are trying to tell you is good for agriculture. The way agriculture is going is really a disaster and it’s going to be a disaster for us all,” he said.

In further discussion, as of Monday, supervisors Guy Richardson, Muir and Rudolph favor the drainage districts covering the $5,000/year allocation. Supervisor Tom Contner thinks the county should pay, and supervisor Mick Burkett did not share his thoughts.

There is precedent for funding defense of lawsuits by the county. The board of supervisors previously paid into the Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) fund in defense of a lawsuit filed by Union Pacific railroad. That amount was less than $1,000 and came from the board of supervisors line item in the budget, Heun said.

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