Flooding forces N.D. prison evacuationInmates from a minimum-security state prison near the flooding Missouri River have been moved to the gymnasium of a nearby juvenile detention center, North Dakota’s corrections director said Tuesday.
By: By Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Inmates from a minimum-security state prison near the flooding Missouri River have been moved to the gymnasium of a nearby juvenile detention center, North Dakota’s corrections director said Tuesday.
Separately, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it will start releasing Lake Sakakawea water into the swollen river through the Garrison Dam’s emergency spillway gates for the first time in the dam’s history.
Normally, most of the dam’s water releases go through tunnels that use the water’s force to generate electricity. However, the reservoir is almost full, and its 28 spillway gates will be gradually opened to increase flows to 115,000 cubic feet per second by week’s end, said Todd Lindquist, a corps project manager.
That represents an increase of one-third of the current water flow, Lindquist said. It is enough water in one minute to quench Bismarck’s normal summer water demand for four days. Lindquist said he expected the water releases to climb still higher during June, to 150,000 cubic feet per second.
The river on Tuesday was just below its 16-foot flood stage, with officials saying it has risen less rapidly than expected at Bismarck and Mandan because its rapid flows are cutting a broader and deeper river channel that is able to accommodate more water.
Bismarck, Mandan and county officials said no evacuations have been ordered, and earthen dike systems that are expected to protect most of the two cities should be completed by Friday. The Corps of Engineers have awarded almost $8 million worth of levee construction contracts in recent days.
Almost 140 inmates from the Missouri River Correctional Center, on the river’s east bank just south of Bismarck, were moved from the minimum-security prison Monday to a gymnasium at the Youth Correctional Center in neighboring Mandan, said Leann Bertsch, director of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The inmates will be staying on cots at the gym for at least a few weeks, Bertsch said Tuesday. The Youth Correctional Center is for juvenile offenders, and Bertsch said the adult inmates would have no contact with the center’s teenagers.
The Missouri River Correctional Center inmates have been working for the last week building sandbag dikes to protect the prison’s buildings, and to provide sandbags for community use, Bertsch said.
North Dakota’s Emergency Commission, a panel that includes the governor, secretary of state and legislative leaders, voted Tuesday to allow the North Dakota National Guard to borrow up to $17.5 million for flood-fighting expenses. The request will drain the Legislature’s newly established disaster-relief fund through the 2011-13 budgeting period, which ends June 30, 2013.
A separate panel of lawmakers, called the Budget Section, must also approve the request. The committee is meeting June 21. Sen. Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck, the Senate’s majority leader, said a special session of the Legislature may be necessary to set aside more money for flood-fighting expenses once the cost of the effort is better known.
“I don’t know where the governor will draw the line on how serious it is, to see that he needs a special session,” Stenehjem said. “Who knows what the bill is going to be at this point?”
Stenehjem is a member of both the Emergency Commission and the Budget Section. A special session of the Legislature is already planned for November to allow lawmakers to use recent census results to draw a new map of legislative districts.
Spokesmen for utilities that serve Bismarck, Mandan and rural Burleigh and Morton counties said the flooding has not made it necessary to cut off power to certain areas.
Mark Hanson, an MDU spokesman, said some customers may experience 10- to 15-minute outages to allow workers to make system adjustments to make sure the larger grid isn’t affected by flooding.
“We’re doing a lot of preventive work, raising some of our transformers, and where we can’t re-route that power around, we have to shut it off,” Hanson said. “We just wanted residents not to panic, and think that there are any power outages.”
Hanson and Wes Engbrecht, a spokesman for Capital Electric Cooperative, which serves much of north Bismarck, said people who are leaving their homes should turn off their electricity.