HARWOOD, N.D. — Streamlining.
That’s how North Dakota State Rep. Cindy Schreiber-Beck, R-Wahpeton, describes her hopes for a bill that she thinks will reduce needless county cost and hassle in processing of farmland drainage permits. The bill would allow districts to charge up to $500 for an application — up from a maximum of $150 in current law.
Existing regulations require counties to verify deeds for lands at least one mile downstream of a proposed drainage project. Schreiber-Beck’s bill — so far unnamed — would replace that by listing whoever is listed on the tax rolls. It would then be up to that person, or even a land management company, to contact any interested landowners.
“Deeds are very cumbersome, sometimes listing five to seven people, none of them living in the area, and the process was to obtain their addresses as well. It took a considerable amount of effort,” Schreiber-Beck said.
30 days or done
Under the proposed bill, once a permit is turned in to the district, the district would have three days to tell them if it’s incomplete. After that, the bill says the district “shall” approve (or deny) a permit within 30 days.
“If the district fails to approve the permit application within that period, the permit is deemed approved with no conditions,” the bill says.
Schreiber-Beck credits Richland County Water District Secretary-Treasurer Monica Zentgraf, engineering technician Justin Johnson and legal counsel Sean Fredricks, for help in writing the proposed legislation. It has been “vetted” by leaders of the North Dakota Water Resource Districts Association, she said.
The bill also requires that any drainage project, regardless of size, must receive a permit. It remove language that allows projects of 79 acres or less to go ahead without a permit.
Under current law, hypothetically, a landowner who wants to tile a 160-quarter-section of land and could cut it into pieces — one 79-acre, and the other 79 acres — and neither would have a permit. Under that rule, landowner incur extra costs when it probably would have been simpler to do the whole thing under a permit.
Schreiber-Beck thinks the process will be simplified for farmsteads.
Sen. Larry Luick, R-Fairmount, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he is particularly concerned about ensuring farmstead drainage rules are livable.
The bill removes a portion of current law that says a person who installs sub-surface water management without first securing a permit is “guilty of an infraction.” The bill specifically “does not prohibit a downstream party damaged by the discharge of water from a subsurface water management system from seeking damages in a civil action.”
Up and down in ag
Dealing with underground drainage is something of a switch for Schreiber-Beck. She grew up 16 miles east of Wahpeton on a farm south of Foxhome, Minn., in Wilkin County.
She and her late husband, Gerry Beck, ran an agricultural aviation spraying business for more than 20 years. Schreiber-Beck continues as executive director for the North Dakota Agricultural Aviation Association.
She has been in the Legislature since 2015. Her District 25 goes south to the South Dakota border, and up to Cass County. She has always served on the agriculture and education committees.
Now out of the ag aviation business, a year ago Schreiber-Beck took a post as a sales consultant for Ellingson Cos., working within about a 50-mile radius of Wahpeton in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota.
Schreiber-Beck was working on a private tile drainage project of her own a year ago and learned firsthand how “cumbersome the process was.”
She acknowledges she has a professional interest in the issue.
“I have not received any conflict of interest questions but I will declare a conflict of interest on the floor, if this makes it to the floor,” she said.
She noted that farmers serve on the Agriculture Committee because of their insight.
In a separate but related issue, Schreiber-Beck said others are working on proposed bills will “clear up the definition of maintenance,” for assessment drains. Schreiber-Beck said the Century Code currently defines maintenance in two different ways.
“Any time we work with water there seems to be some very big concern,” Schreiber-Beck said, noting that any bill regarding tile drainage is unlikely to sail through the legislative process without some changes.