Court says drainage ditches don't count as public roadsby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Moorhead, Minn. — A recent court ruling in Kittson County says the banks next to drainage ditches dug through a wildlife management area cannot be declared public roads.
The Beaches Lake Wildlife Management Area, which covers about 28,000 acres near the Canadian border, is crisscrossed by a number of drainage ditches dug in the early 1900s to improve farmland.
Kittson County claimed the berms next to some of those ditches were public roads and should be open to ATV traffic. Some local residents were riding on the ditch berms, but the Department of Natural Resources restricts ATV traffic in wildlife areas.
The DNR asked for a judge's opinion on the issue. The judge ruled the county has the right to maintain the ditches, but cannot claim a public right of way.
Attorney David Meyers says the county will ask the judge to revise her opinion.
"The limitation on the roadway and the judge's position that the state did not have authority to dedicate the roadway, I think those are questions the judge should reconsider," he said.
Meyers says the county may also ask the state court of appeals to consider the case.
DNR Wildlife Section Chief Dennis Simon says the agency will enforce the ruling once all legal appeals are exhausted.
"Typically we would enforce the ATV laws on state wildlife management areas restricting them to public roads, and since these spoil banks are now determined to not be public roads, we would enforce the no ATV use."
A number of Minnesota counties are watching this case with interest. The DNR says there are potentially dozens similar cases across the state.