Devils Lake delegation makes strong statement in the nation’s capital

Mike Bellmore, Features Editor
Joe Belford was one of several officials representing the Lake Region in Washington DC last week talking about Devils Lake flooding.

Representatives from the federal government heard about it from a lot of corners in the Lake Region Friday at a meeting in Washington, D.C.

They heard from the mayors of Devils Lake and Minnewaukan, County Commissioners Joe Belford and Odell Flaagen and others on the issue of Devils Lake flooding.

It was a round table discussion chaired by Sen. Kent Conrad with Sen. Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy on hand, as well as Gov. John Hoeven.

Everyone provided input on the problems caused by 17 years of flooding, with Johnson concentrating on city issues and Belford on agricultural issues.

“There was a lot of talk on the east end outlet,” said Belford. “And Valley City presented a position paper from their commission.”

Valley City voiced its concerns over water quality, Stump Lake spilling over, additional control-release structures, upper basin storage, action triggers, erosion control, drinking water quality and treatment, permanent flood protection in Valley City and FEMA policies on usage of buy-out properties.

“The city of Valley City recognizes the seriousness of the problem in Devils Lake with the understanding  of a risk the lake will continue to rise and ultimately exceed the elevation of 1458’,” the statement said.

"We are prepared to continue to be an active partner in the development of strategies and solutions to respond to this critical situation.”

The statement added that Valley City realizes the various opinions, options and positions of each community.

Therefore the community realizes the final solution will involve compromise and some sacrifice for everyone in order to alleviate the problems.

The paper was presented by the Valley City administrator, Jon Cameron, and there was solid support from Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, and mayors from West Fargo, Lisbon and Fort Ransom.

“There were a lot of questions and a strong feeling that something needs to be done,” added Belford.

“The EPA was there and a lot of talk about increasing the west end outlet capacity. Commissioner Flaagen asked that Stump Lake not be forgotten.”

Belford said there is hope the Sheyenne River can take as much as 1,000 cfs, and talk about a waiver from the EPA to get to 750 cfs.

“How Manitoba feels about all this is still a question,” added Belford. “They had nobody at the meeting.”

Belford told representatives that 125,000 acres of agriculture land is under water and hammered to the high-level officials that immediate help is needed.

The long list of items he touched on included the history of the 17-year-old flood, concerns from Spirit Lake, Amtrak service, school bus safety, emergency services, the 400 homes that have been lost to water and a dwindling tax base.

“Personal issues such as stress, loss of homes and income need to be addressed NOW,” added Belford.

“We thought it was a good meeting, well-received and we had our delegation on board with us.”

“Had we not been there, it would have looked very bad on our part.”

Vice President Joe Biden has directed the formation of the working group at the request of the North Dakota delegation that is to issue a final report Sept. 20.

Friday’s discussion centered on the best ways to remove water from the lake in order to prevent an uncontrolled spillover, actions to help residents of the region affected by the lake and steps to minimize downstream impacts.

There was a strong feeling Minnewaukan has to be addressed now, Johnson said.

That Benson County community has already lost more than a dozen homes and the water has moved to within 100 feet of its school.

Pomeroy said the National Weather Service has indicated to him the lake may very well freeze up this winter at its highest level ever.

That would put Minnewaukan at a critical stage.

A final report on the situation is due out Sept. 20, while the EPA indicates another report will some out Sept. 15.