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Prairie seed farmer fined for building river levees without permission

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Prairie seed farmer fined for building river levees without permission

May 12, 2022 | 4:39 pm ET
By Jared Strong
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Prairie seed farmer fined for building river levees without permission
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A Winterset farmer was fined for constructing a levee along the North River without a permit. (Photo by Bill Gross/Iowa DNR)

A Winterset farmer has twice built earthen levees near rivers on his land without a permit and was recently fined $5,500, according to a recent Iowa Department of Natural Resources order.

Dan Allen, founder of Allendan Seed Company, was first issued a notice of violation by the DNR in 2014 for constructing a levee along the Middle River south of Winterset.

Allen had obtained a permit to place riprap — which is usually rocks — along the bank of the river to help stabilize it against erosion, a DNR administrative order said. But during that work, a levee was also created that could have prevented water from overflowing the riverbank into Allen’s property.

“When you put up levees, you potentially back water up on other people’s property,” said Bill Gross, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR. “The neighbors are watching pretty closely.”

Allen did not immediately respond to a request to comment for this article. The levee was removed, and he was not fined for that violation.

A limited liability corporation associated with his seed company, MR2D, owns more than two hundred parcels of land in Madison County, according to county records.

Allendan Seed is a family-operated company and is “one of the largest producers of native prairie grass and wildflower seed,” according to its website. The company lists the Iowa Department of Transportation as one of its biggest clients.

In January 2022 the county reported to the DNR that another levee was being built along the North River on a different parcel of Allen’s located north of Winterset, the DNR order said. He had not sought a permit for the work.

Gross investigated the report and found that a levee that stretched several hundred feet had been constructed and that the riverbank was reinforced with limestone riprap. Allen told him the mound of dirt wasn’t intended to be a levee but was leftover soil from reshaping the riverbank to apply the limestone, Gross said. The work was meant to prevent the river from consuming more of Allen’s land.

“They don’t want the river to move,” Gross said. “That’s sort of a losing battle, but in the short term he can probably get that to happen. Over the long term, the flood water is going to turn and go where it wants to.”

Allen was fined $5,500 for the repeat violation as part of an agreement with the DNR to settle the matter. He also obtained a post-construction permit to allow the riprap on the riverbank, but the soil of the levee was spread out to reduce its height.