By Julie Ann Madden
It’s now up to the attorneys to decide the future of Plymouth County’s newest pond, just off 180th Street, south of Akron.
A land swap deal between Higman Sand & Gravel and Plymouth County Supervisors has come to a standstill.
At the Aug. 27 meeting, no representative from Higman Sand & Gravel showed up to discuss the completion of pond construction. Supervisors were expecting Higman Sand & Gravel owner Justin Higman.
In December 2004, Higman and the supervisors entered into this agreement whereby the county would swap its gravel pit pond on Birch Avenue, which sets between two Higman gravel pit properties, with Higman land along 180th Street with the understanding that Higman would build a pond and boat ramp on the Higman parcel. Once the pond and boat ramp were completed, the deeds would transfer ownership of these two properties.
The boat ramp was to be finished by Dec. 31, 2005 and the pond completely constructed by Dec. 31, 2009.
However, neither is finished. The berm around the pond is mostly completed and the pond’s footprint is in place. However, many more tons of soil need to be removed from the pond and the boat ramp has not been started.
Furthermore, the berm has not been seeded and weeds are growing there and on an adjacent property which is part of the land swap. It was noted county employees sprayed about 20 acres of solid thistles this summer on this adjacent piece.
Supervisors also noted that liability is a concern as people are swimming in the unfinished pond which has a few feet of water in it.
“Where do we go from here?” asked Supervisor Craig Anderson. “It’s been nine years.”
“It’s about solving problems,” said County Attorney Darin Raymond. “There are always remedies I can employ but you have to decide what you want.”
The verbal consensus was the supervisors want action taken to get the pond and boat ramp completely finished as soon as possible.
Supervisors’ Chairman Jim Henrich told his fellow board members he had talked to Higman about three weeks ago after the Plymouth County Conservation Board had contacted him. Higman had told him it would be completed this fall.
“I’ve heard (that statement) a gazillion times,” said Henrich. “I keep bugging and bugging him but I’m not getting anything.”
The supervisors discussed several options such as hiring someone else to finish the work and sending the bill to Higman and going through the process of agreement default.
“Outcomes are more successful when you get people to make choices and they agree to things,” said Raymond, asking if they thought they’d reached an impasse.
“I don’t think that’s the case with Jim’s comments,” said Plymouth County Auditor Stacey Feldman. “The intention is to follow through with the agreement.”
“A nine-year intention,” said Supervisor Don Kass.
The supervisors noted there had been some initial delays on Higman’s pond construction project, including securing of Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ permits, weather, flooding, the hope the soil could be just moved across the road for an ethanol plant, and Higman’s own business operations’ busyness.
“It needs to be done now,” said Henrich.
“It’s basically our feeling a line needs to be drawn and we want to know when, not if,” said Plymouth County Conservation Board Chairman Bob Schlesser.
“I agree with you,” said Anderson. “The first four or five years, there were circumstances I fully understood.”
“Absolutely,” said Schlesser. “But we are way beyond that and just the lack of being present and things like that show me lack of faith right there…it’s time to finish it.”
“I will contact his counsel,” said Raymond. “The next step, if we feel we are at an impasse, is to look at the entire agreement as a default. I’ll come up with some options.”
Part of the agreement was for the county to get 20 years of gravel from Higman, noted Henrich, adding the county did vacate Birch Avenue, which was part of the county’s agreement.
“I’ll remind the board that under the agreement, part of it was to take the gravel from the old county pond which they’ve already done,” said Anderson, “so it looks like the things that benefited Higman happened right away.”
“But the old county pond would make a pretty good lake right now, too,” said Henrich.
“The whole key to the situation is what is it going to take to motivate it,” said Raymond. “Sometimes kicking people in the shin motivates them. I just know the outcomes are better if we can get people to agree to stuff.”
“Hopefully, (Higman) will carry through with what he told me and do it this fall,” said Henrich. “Still, he needs to get started.”
“It’s time to get it done,” said Supervisor Mark Loutsch.
“We’d appreciate it if it’s kept on the front burner,” said Schlesser. “It’s a point in time where it’s got to be kept right up front and center to get results.”
Supervisors were to discuss it at Sept. 10 meeting.
Editor’s Note: Attorneys have been emailing back and forth, Henrich told The Akron Hometowner Monday morning. The next step is for two supervisors to meet with Higman privately. Then the matter will be put on a future Supervisors’ meeting.
According to Plymouth County Conservation Services Executive Director Nick Beeck, the matter is on their Thursday, Sept. 12 meeting agenda as a discussion item.
Members of the Conservation Board include Schlesser, Dave Klohs, Chris Beeck, Lisa Harris (of Akron), and Janet Schroeder.