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Farther north, the Red River has yet to raise major concerns in Pembina

Gary Helland, public works employee for Pembina, N.D., checks a pump station on the south side of town. Anna Jauhola / Forum News Service1 / 2
The Red River at Pembina, N.D., is still covered in ice. Anna Jauhola / Forum News Service 2 / 2

PEMBINA, N.D. - With more secure levees and a wealth of experience, flooding isn’t a major concern at this point for the city of Pembina.

“The National Weather Service lessened the excitement because the melting process has been so cooperative,” Gary Helland, Pembina public works manager, said during an interview Friday. “It’s just been ideal conditions right now for the melt.”

Although Helland and City Clerk Lisa Hall are somewhat new to Pembina flooding, they have plenty of “old hands” in town who help out. Joe Defoe, who was around for the 1997 and 2009-10 floods, isn’t too excited about flooding yet.

“It all depends on how the water comes from the south,” Defoe said. “When you hear it’s past Grand Forks and into Drayton, you’ll kind of know.”

Until then, Hall said Helland has been making sure all the pumps are working, both the stations and portable pumps, and all the gatewells are not frozen. He’s checking equipment as well, like generators, and maintaining them as needed. He also opened the main drainage in the city with an excavator.

Helland checked to ensure the stop logs and tie-downs for the cement levee in town were in good condition and ready for use, as they’ll be staged by the wall this week.

Last week, he found a piece of his equipment had a gas leak and will need to have it repaired, he said. Thursday, he used a steamer to open a gate in a coulee east of town.

“If you don’t do that, then you’ll get internal flooding,” he said, referring to flooding within the city.

In 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped Pembina build its levee system to 57 feet, three feet higher than before. Before 2017, a cement levee was installed on the west side of the Pembina River, which flows through the edge of town.

As of Tuesday morning, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website showed the Red River at Pembina at 17.47 feet. Minor flood stage is 39 feet, and the city of Pembina begins to really ramp up preparations at 42 feet to 45 feet, Helland said.

“We’ll start staging planks at the wall, waiting to be put in,” he said.

When the river hits 45 feet, then levee patrol begins. The National Weather Service currently predicts a 95 percent chance the Red River will crest at 51 feet in Pembina.

“When needed, volunteers really come out of the woodwork,” said Hall.

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