Hoeven assessing risk at Devils Lake
DEVILS LAKE, N.D. -- A Black hawk helicopter will be stationed at Camp Grafton, a North Dakota National Guard facility on the south shore of Devils Lake, as early as today, to provide emergency assistance to rural residents who are stranded by th...
DEVILS LAKE, N.D. -- A Black hawk helicopter will be stationed at Camp Grafton, a North Dakota National Guard facility on the south shore of Devils Lake, as early as today, to provide emergency assistance to rural residents who are stranded by the flooding Devils Lake.
It's a temporary assignment, Gov. John Hoeven said Tuesday, in response to a four-inch rain Monday that further saturated the network of roads that lead to rural homes and raised the record flood to 1,452 feet and the 17-year-long flood emergency to another level.
"We'll get you something right now," Hoeven told a group of Devils Lake officials. "We can get paramedics out. But the Black Hawk helicopter isn't set up like an ambulance."
Col. Dale Adams said the National Guard also will bring a high-wheel, 6-wheel-drive military vehicle to Camp Grafton, along with operators, to provide local first-responders with access to rural homes.
"Our challenge is we don't have a life-support system on our vehicles," Adams said. A longer-term answer would be to provide a four-wheel-drive vehicle that is equipped with emergency medical equipment and supplies.
While local officials were waiting Tuesday for an official estimate of how the latest rain might will affect lake levels, those who have watched this growing flood believe it will rise another foot, to about 1,453 feet this summer.
"This next foot is going to be traumatic," Ramsey County Emergency Manager Tim Heisler said. "It's not just a few isolated farmsteads. It's all over the county."
At 1,452 feet, Devils Lake and the combined Stump Lake cover about 182,200 acres and contain 3.7 million acre-feet of water.
If it reaches 1,453 feet this year, the combined lake will cover about 193,126 acres and contain about 3.9 million acre-feet of water.
In 1993, when the lake was at 1,422.6 feet, it covered 44,231 acres and contained 565,900 acre-feet of water. Stump Lake was a small lake covering about 9,043 acres and containing about 214,750 acre-feet of water.
Hoeven and staff members took a short aerial tour of the Devils Lake Basin, met in Devils Lake, then drove to flood-threatened Minnewaukan, N.D., to meet with local officials.
The governor said the state is helping Minnewaukan, the Benson County seat of 310 people, to apply for federal funding to move a portion of the community out of harm's way, as the lake swallows more homes, land and infrastructure.
Minnewaukan School Superintendent Myron Jury said the local school board is applying for $6 million from a state Department of Public Instruction impact aid construction fund to move the school.
The lake is lapping at the school's property, already claiming a football field and damaging a parking lot. If the lake rises to 1,453 feet, it will be just 1 foot lower than the elevation of the school's gymnasium floor.
Minnewaukan School has an enrollment of 240 in K-12. That's more than double the enrollment 10 years ago. More than 80 percent of the students are bused in from other districts, including Spirit Lake Indian Reservation and Devils Lake.
The school employs 60, with an annual payroll of more than $2 million.
"We're doing a good job and we want to stay that way," Jury said.
Hoeven outlined short-term measures the state is taking to deal with the record flood, which has caused more than $1 billion in damage over the past 17 years, as the lake has risen by 29 feet and more than quadrupled in size.
"Ultimately, we've got to move more water out of Devils Lake," Hoeven said.
He said he and the state's congressional delegation continue to press the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get the necessary permits to build a new outlet on the east end Devils Lake, to move water to the Tolna Coulee and to the Sheyenne River.
Hoeven said state officials this week are testing the Devils Lake Outlet, which has been expanded from 100 cubic feet per second to 250 cfs. It should be operating at the expanded capacity by next week.
Officials estimate the expanded outlet could take about 6 inches of water off the lake annually. The lake has risen by nearly 2 feet this year and rose by 3.5 feet in 2009.
Hoeven said the state soon will start on an emergency road grade raise of U.S. Highway 2, east of Penn, N.D., which flooded after Monday's heavy rain. However, North Dakota Department of Transportation District Engineer Wade Swenson said the state would need federal assistance and approval to make such a grade raise permanent.
"Clearly, the Corps has to help us with an outlet on the east end," Hoeven said. "We're not waiting for the federal government, though. On the state level, we're going to do everything we have to do."
Local officials said they are grateful for the assistance, but are pressing for solutions now.
"It seems that with every storm, we're getting another $200,000 worth of damage," Heisler, the Ramsey County emergency manager, said. "Every week it's a new record. We're going to have to look at 1,453 this year, and that's a very trying level."
"We're running out of time," Minnewaukan Mayor Trish McQuoid said.
Keving Bonham is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.