Battle over drainage permit heats up, with SD Supreme Court appeal and second lawsuit

Mount Vernon farmer files second lawsuit to stop drainage project, while first permit could go to South Dakota's high court

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The matters of a Davison County drainage permit have become more entangled in the court system, with the results of the first decision being appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court and a second permit for the same landowner drawing a new lawsuit.

John Millan filed a second permit for a drainage permit in Beulah Township on Aug. 6, which was shortly after his first permit was voided by a First Circuit Court ruling. That permit has drawn a second lawsuit from neighbor Kenneth Hostler, who filed a new suit on Aug. 31 against Millan and Davison County asking for a permanent injunction and declaratory judgment to void the new permit.

In the first court matter over the drainage permit that was initially approved in March, Judge Patrick Smith sided Hostler, writing in his decision that Millan’s initial application was missing key information in order for the Davison County Drainage Commission to make a decision. Millan and the county have appealed the first decision to the South Dakota Supreme Court, according to court documents filed Sept. 4.

In the appeal, Millan’s attorney, Gary Lestico, of the Rinke Noonan law firm in St. Cloud, Minnesota, claims among other items, that the trial court improperly considered matters outside of applicable South Dakota state law for permissible drainage of water and had erred in deciding that Millan didn’t meet his burden of proof in the permit application and erred deciding that the Davison County Drainage Commission had abused its discretion in initially granting the permit in March.

When Millan applied for another permit in early August, he sought administrative approval through Davison County Planning and Zoning Administrator Jeff Bathke, who oversees the county’s drainage processes. Bathke approved the permit on Aug. 10.


Drainage permits in Davison County can be approved by the administrator without going to the county’s Drainage Commission if they meet specific criteria. That criteria includes drainage projects that involve the county’s major creeks and rivers, such as Firesteel Creek, Enemy Creek, the James River or Dry Run Creek. The criteria also allows for approval if signed waivers are received for upstream landowners within a half-mile, downstream landowners within 1 mile and landowners within a quarter-mile of the center of the drain area. Six signed waivers, including one from Millan, were included with the permit, and based on the county’s criteria and mapping, Hostler was not a landowner who had to sign a waiver to allow the permit to proceed.

In his most recently filed lawsuit, Hostler alleges the new project application was “illegally approved.” He says the project will drain water onto his property in southeast corner of Section 19 in Beulah Township, which is located immediately to the north of Section 30, where Millan’s drainage project is planned in the southern half of the section.

“The method and place for discharging surface waters onto Plantiff’s land in the new project is the same method and place for discharging surface waters onto Plantiff’s land under a drainage permit voided by the Circuit Court in related litigation,” wrote Hostler’s attorney, David Ganje, of Sun City, Arizona.

The land in question is about 5 miles east of Mount Vernon and about 8 miles west of Mitchell near Interstate 90. Millan’s permit calls for 157,277 feet of drainage tile on his land, draining 320 acres of property, with the water eventually draining into Dry Run Creek.

The Davison County Commissioners decided earlier this month to retain James Davies, of Alexandria, as the county’s attorney in the matter due to conflicts involving Davison County’s staff attorneys.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at
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