This week's case in point: the Stip brothers. Lake County land barons Donald and Arthur Stip, evidently not able to make a living on the vasts swaths of Lake County they already own, have been filling ditches and planting crops right out to road's edge.
Reminder: ditches are necessary. They keep roads from flooding. That's why filling or otherwise blocking them is against the law (SDCL 31-21-12 and 31-21-13).
According to Elisa Sand's report in Tuesday's MDL, Craig Johannsen, member of both the Clarno Township Board and Lake County Commission, described for the county commission Tuesday the road repairs the township has had to perform due to the Stips' illegal ditch filling. Johannsen asked that the county join the township in asking for $20,219.24 from Stips to cover the road repairs. The county agreed.
But wait a minute: what's this "asking" business? Stips are breaking the law. If I do damage to public property—drop library books in the lake, knock a bridge down, whatever—Sheriff Hartman and States Attorney Meyer won't come to my door asking anything. They'll break out a can of cuff-'n'-stuff and have Judge Tucker liberate more than a few dollars from my wallet.
So why, as Commission Ron Jorgenson asked at Tuesday's meeting, does the county not order the Stips to clean out those ditches? Wouldn't that solve the problem of having to repair the road all the time?
Johannsen said that issue would have to be pursued at the township level, and he doesn't think it would have the backing of the full board. In addition to the Stip family, he said, three or four other farmers also farm the ditches in Clarno Township [Elisa Sand, "County Seeks Injunction Against Stip Brothers," Madison Daily Leader, 2008.12.02, p. 1].
Ah. So I don't have to be rich to do whatever I want. I just need to get three or four other people to break the law with me, and no one will prosecute. Brilliant.
Bottom line: Stips, pay for the mess you've made, and clean your ditches. And Clarno Township (and everyone else), enforce the law.