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Woodbury to file appeal on new watershed district boundaries

The city of Woodbury may go to court over a disagreement with the state Board of Water and Soil Resources on its recent approval of changes to the boundaries of two local watershed districts.

Late last month the board made the decision to officially dissolve the Lower St. Croix Watershed Management Organization and incorporate the area into the existing South Washington and Valley Branch watershed districts.

The new boundaries means the South Washington Watershed District, which includes most of Woodbury and Cottage Grove, will absorb all of Denmark Township.

The Woodbury City Council voted 5-0 Wednesday, June 10, to file an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals to contest the decision that city officials say did not seriously consider the city's objections to the watershed district boundary changes.

In April the city of Woodbury sent a petition to the board objecting to the boundary changes, which were endorsed by Washington County just weeks earlier. The city's petition included its preference that any new boundaries between the Valley Branch and South Washington watershed districts should be along the naturally occurring hydrological divide between the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers, which would put portions of Denmark Township in both watershed districts.

The petition also states the city of Woodbury's objection to the state board's decision to expand the representatives on the South Washington Watershed District from six to seven members.

Woodbury city officials met with Board of Water and Soil Resources officials in public meetings in April and May, but Woodbury environmental planner Steve Kernik said the meetings seemed like more of a formality than an actual dialogue.

"We don't feel any of our objections were ever really seriously considered at any point," Kernik told Woodbury City Council members at their June 10 meeting. "It seemed like it was kind of a done deal; the train had left the station and by the time we found out about it there was no way to get back on board."

That sticking point led the city to file its appeal, which, according to a city report on the issue, will attempt to challenge the process of the board's decision.

Although Woodbury city administrator Clint Gridley told council members the city knows full well bringing the issue to court provides an uphill battle, the hope for the city is that legal teams for both the city and the state Board of Water and Soil Resources can reach some sort of compromise over a process city officials believe was flawed.

Tax impact of new boundaries

During the June 10 Woodbury City Council meeting, officials expressed concern over how the recently changed boundaries would impact the proportionality of watershed district taxes on the city's residents.

Woodbury Mayor Bill Hargis said Woodbury residents would likely not be pleased with an imbalance in the tax base for the district.

"If they need to raise money it's going to come a lot from our people," Hargis said. "And we have the majority of the people and population."

If the city's appeal makes it to the courtroom, a judicial decision may take up to three or four months, city attorney Mark Vierling told the council.