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3/4/2009 – Editorials

By Richard Peterson

Devils Lake is certain to rise this year and Minnewaukan is right in the way. When this area was first settled by white people in 1883, the level of the lake was estimated to be about 1438. We know this because in his book "Recollections and Reminiscences of Graham’s Island," Usher L. Burdick writes:

". . . when we came to Graham’s Island (in 1884) there was a strip of land extending north from Graham’s Island, between the Big Coulee Bay and the Grand Harbor Bay, probably a half mile wide . . ." My US Geological Survey maps show that this spit of land disappears when the lake reaches an elevation of 1440.

So the lake today is at least nine feet higher than at the time of settlement. The Minnie H docked at Minnewaukan between 1883 and 1888.

By 1889 the water had dropped enough so the boat couldn’t make it to Minnewaukan. The area where the boat docked is now under nine feet of water.

Minnewaukan’s current boat ramp near the city is likely to go under water this year. The ramp half a mile south of Minnewaukan will be able to operate normally because it’s built on a hill.

The highest point in Minnewaukan is on the junction of Main Street and the two streets running north and south parallel to where the railroad tracks once were. Both these points are at a level of 1465.5. Less than half the town is above a level of 1460. Most of the town is between 1455 and 1460. If the lake rises to 1455, there’s no doubt the town will have to throw in the towel.

So if the lake rises to 1451, Minnewaukan will still be OK with some modifications, such as diking the lift stations, sealing manholes and relining the sewers that were not relined in 2000. It’s worth spending $400,000 to keep the town viable.

If the lake rises to 1452 or 1453 or even 1454, the town is still viable unless there’s a failure of the sewer system. Nobody knows when or if that will happen.

Remember that Devils Lake has risen many times to flow into Stump Lake. But in the last several thousand years it’s only flowed into the Sheyenne a couple times. It has stopped its rise before that happened. Maybe it will stop rising next year, as it has countless times in the past. Maybe not. Nobody knows.

What if the worst happens and Minnewaukan is no longer viable as a town? What does this mean for the residents of Benson County?

I’m sure there are people in Leeds and Maddock that are already thinking about the possibility of one of those towns becoming the county seat. Not so fast. First of all, Minnewaukan isn’t done yet and judging from the past, I think the odds are that the lake will begin to recede before Minnewaukan is flooded.

Secondly, there will have to be a vote on where the new county seat will be located. At least half the population of Benson County lives on the Spirit Lake Nation and I think the people on the reservation would rather see the county seat located nearer to the center of the county’s population. Oberon, for instance.

Anyway, the decision, if there has to be one, will be made by a vote of the people of Benson County.

Make no mistake, it will be an expensive decision for the property owners of Benson County. Our courthouse in Minnewaukan was paid for many years ago. A new courthouse would be necessary. I think it would cost between $5 million and $10 million. The property owners of Benson County would be paying through the nose for years to come.

We’d all better hope Minnewaukan remains above the water.


One day when a seamstress was sewing while sitting close to a river, her thimble fell into the river. When she cried out, the Lord appeared and asked, "My dear child, why are you crying?" The seamstress replied that her thimble had fallen into the water and that she needed it to help her husband in making a living for their family. The Lord dipped His hand into the water and pulled up a golden thimble set with sapphires.

"Is this your thimble?" the Lord asked. The seamstress replied, "No."

The Lord again dipped into the river. He held out a golden thimble studded with rubies. "Is this your thimble?" the Lord asked. Again, the seamstress replied, "No."

The Lord reached down again and came up with a leather thimble. "Is this your thimble?" the Lord asked. The seamstress replied, "Yes."

The Lord was pleased with the woman’s honesty and gave her all three thimbles to keep and the seamstress went home happy.

Some years later, the seamstress was walking with her husband along the riverbank and her husband fell into the river and disappeared under the water. When she cried out, the Lord again appeared and asked her, "Why are you crying?"

"Oh, Lord, my husband has fallen into the river."

The Lord went down into the water and came up with George Clooney.

"Is this your husband?" the Lord asked.

"Yes," cried the seamstress.

The Lord was furious. "You lied! That is an untruth!"

The seamstress replied, "Oh, forgive me, my Lord. It is a misunderstanding. You see, if I had said ‘no’ to George Clooney, you would have come up with Brad Pitt. Then if I said ‘no’ to him, you would have come up with my husband. Had I then said ‘yes,’ you would have given me all three. Lord, I’m not in the best of health and would not be able to take care of all three husbands, so that’s why I said ‘yes’ to George Clooney."

And so, the Lord let her keep him.

The moral of this story: Whenever a woman lies, it’s for a good and honorable reason and in the best interests of others.

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