By Richard Peterson
At a meeting in Bismarck February 4 flooding issues around Devils Lake were discussed. Minnewaukan City Council members Rita Staloch and Steven Huffman attended and were surprised to hear that the governmental agencies apparently have written off Minnewaukan as a lost cause because of the rising lake.
The city of Devils Lake was well represented, but the two city council members from Minnewaukan and Benson County Water Board member Brian Maddock of Maddock were the only Benson County people present.
Hold the phone! We’re not done yet.
First of all, since Devils Lake was formed 10,000 years ago it has flowed into Stump Lake many times. But only on three occasions did the lake get high enough to flow into the Sheyenne River. Devils Lake is certain to rise this year. But nobody knows how much it will rise this year or if it will rise at all next year. Predicting the weather beyond five days is nothing but a guess.
The lake is a little more than 1447 feet above mean sea level today.
The National Weather Service estimates there is a 50-50 chance the lake will rise to 1451.
Minnewaukan can survive this level with some tinkering of the sewer system. Manholes which are leaking will have to be sealed. Ring dikes will have to be constructed around at least two of the sewer lift stations. That portion of the city’s sewer system that was not relined should be relined.
If a program can be put forward to have people fill in their basements and build onto their houses to shelter the furnace, water heater, etc. that would give more chance for the city to survive.
Everyone in town should make certain the floor drains in their basements can be plugged in case of a sewer backup. People should check to make sure their sump pumps are in working condition.
There are approximately 115 residences in Minnewaukan. Sixty-three of those residences have flood insurance. Those people who do not have flood insurance should certainly consider purchasing it because flood insurance will play a part in any buyout, if necessary. If you do have flood insurance, for heaven’s sake, don’t drop it.
Those people with flood insurance with the waiver can negotiate a settlement with flood insurance when their basements are at a level below the lake and there’s water in their basements or the sump pumps are working for 30 days or more.
Those people who do not now have flood insurance cannot get this waiver. Under new flood insurance policies, water must touch the foundation of the building for 30 days. But flood insurance may be helpful in a buyout.
It’s my guess the city can survive to about 1454. The amount of water it would take to reach that level would be tremendous. Flat land almost to Cando would be under water. Lake Irvine, Lake Alice and Dry Lake would become part of Devils Lake. Chances are Devils Lake will quit rising before it reaches that level. I could be wrong, of course, because every prediction about Devils Lake is only a guess.
If the lake does rise to 1454 there are three alternatives for Minnewaukan: 1) a dike to protect the city; 2) moving the city; and 3) a buyout.
1) A dike is not feasible. About 10 years ago the Corps of Engineers estimated the cost at $12 million. The cost today would probably be in excess of $20 million. It isn’t cost effective. Not only that, a dike will require a pumping station to push run-off water from rain and snowmelt into the lake. The city would have to stand the enormous cost of operation and maintenance. Getting out of the way of the lake is the only alternative if it continues its rise.
2) Moving the town. This also, is not feasible. The cost of new streets, new water lines, new sewer lines and other costs would require such high taxes it’s simply unthinkable. In addition quite a number of residents would not opt to move to the new location. They would want to go to some other town. There probably wouldn’t be enough people relocating to operate a water or sewer system. It isn’t going to happen.
3) A buyout. This is the only viable alternative. FEMA should start putting together a buyout program right now. Or maybe it would be the North Central Planning Council which handled the Churchs Ferry buyout. That program should be in place in case the sewer system fails or water comes across the land to threaten the town. Just because the program is in place does not mean it will have to be accessed. Having a program ready to go is simply insurance. Hopefully it will never be used.
The city council is planning a public meeting on the issue in the near future. The US Army Corps of Engineers will be in town February 25 to speak on the subject.
Minnewaukan is not giving up yet. As a matter of fact, 20 people completed Horizons training which should result in more leaders in our little town.
As part of the Horizons Program a community center and fire hall is in the planning stage. Three grant applications have been submitted and if these are funded, there’s almost a 100 percent chance Minnewaukan will finally get a community center.
These guesses about what Devils Lake is going to do should be taken into consideration, but the guesses simply can’t stop progress in Minnewaukan.