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Forum draws big crowd, big names

By Staff | May 7, 2010

Millions of dollars have been spent over the past 15 years to protect communities and property from flooding in the Devils Lake region, but the problem isn’t going away.

Federal, state and local officials say it’s high-time to get a plan in motion to end the problem that has damaged infrastructure, ruined crop land and threatened communities.

North Dakota’s Congressional delegation – Sen. Kent Conrad, Sen. Bryon Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy – along with Gov. John Hoeven were joined by several high-ranking federal agency directors last week for a summit on the Devils Lake flooding problem.

Among the top federal representatives were: FEMA Administrator Craig Fugat, Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of the Agriculture Department; Greg Siekaniec, assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Victor Mendez, administrator for the Department of Federal Highway Administration; and Mike Black, Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Over 1,000 attend meeting

They all had the opportunity to get an aerial view of the widespread flooding in the region before making comments before a crowd of just over 1,000 gathered at the Lake Region State College’s auditorium.

Several local officials and residents also had the opportunity to make comments on the flooding situation which has plagued the region since the early 1990s.

District 7 Rep. Jon Nelson, of Rugby, was one of a handful of local residents who attended the summit.

“It (the meeting) was an important step, and one that hopefully will begin a road to getting a handle on this problem,’ Nelson said. “It’s an issue that our region needs to be concerned about and involved in.”

Over the years significant state and federal money has been appropriated to build a state outlet as well as repair and build new roads damaged by rising waters. Unfortunately, that outlet has not operated at full capacity for a variety of reasons and it only helped ease some of the flooding.

Other proposed plans have been met with opposition because of the environmental impact they pose and effects on property down-stream. Among them is an east side outlet which has concerned residents and communities to the south.

Nelson said there is no magic bullet to solving the flooding and it’s going to take a number of solutions, likely an east outlet.

“I think state legislators, including those in and around the Devils Lake region need to have a clear voice,’ he said.

Pierce County may be on the edge of the flooding, but it still is affected.

The county is part of the Department of Transportation’s Devils Lake District and repairing and replacing roads in the immediate Devils Lake area has taken priority over other projects in the district.

Also, Amtrak’s Empire Builder train has been affected by the rising waters. Train service has been temporarily rerouted to another rail line in past years due to rising waters.

And most recently, there has been serious talk of rerouting the Empire Builder, for good, from the current Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s northern line to the KO Subdivision, or Surrey Cutoff due to rising waters near the track by Churchs Ferry.

If that step is taken, it would mean no daily train service to Rugby as well as to Devils Lake and Grand Forks.

Rugby Mayor Dale Niewoehner also attended last week’s meeting to show the city’s support to other communities affected by the continued rising flood waters, and also to learn more about the status of Amtrak service remaining on the northern line.

“At this point, Amtrak is still working out a plan to keep (The Empire Builder) on its current route,’ Niewoehner said. “We’re hopeful that train service won’t end here.”

North Dakota Congressional Delegation met last week with Amtrak’s officials to discuss needed infrastructure repairs along that segment of track affected by Devils Lake.

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