Tracy Frank, Published May 08 2009
Residents spiff up Spiffy Biffs
Valley City Mayor Mary Lee Nielson lifted the flushing ban April 29, but while the flooded Sheyenne temporarily reduced the city to something resembling a pioneer village, some residents took the opportunity to add humor to an otherwise lamentable situation.
A smiling wooden gingerbread man and woman welcomed visitors to the Spiffy Biff on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Seventh Street.
Steve and Michelle Loibl also adorned the site with large plastic candy canes, plastic flowers and a white picket fence. At night, strings of colored Christmas lights guided those who needed to find the plastic outhouse.
“It started just to get lights inside so people could use it at night and then I just kept finding stuff and adding to it,” Steve Loibl said.
It quickly became the talk of the town, he said.
“You have to keep a sense of humor,” Loibl said. “Everybody has just been so down with the flooding and not being able to use the toilets. Everybody’s been grumpy. It’s just a way to brighten everybody’s day.”
The mayor asked residents to voluntarily leave town after a sewer pipe buried by the flooded Sheyenne River failed April 17. Those who stayed behind were told not to flush toilets or pour anything down the drains.
Valley City placed more than 400 portable lavatories throughout the city, Nielson said.
Jackie Fritel turned the outdoor loo near her home into a posh privy by adding a decorative table and chair set, a plant, magazines and a floral welcome sign.
“We had to have some humor in all of this,” Fritel said. “I said, ‘I’m going to make it a fun, inviting place to be.’ ”
A hand-drawn sign on the latrine’s side proclaimed Valley City “Porta-Potty Capital!”
“This is going to be something that our kids and their kids talk about,” she said.
Other signs posted on portable toilets throughout town stated: “Open 24 hours,” “Apartment for rent” and “Make deposits here.”
Residents not only decorated the provisional privies, they also protected them. Tucker Wavra surrounded his with sandbags – just in case.
“I’m not taking any chances,” he joked.
He also had a chair and umbrella stationed nearby.
“Everything in the news is drab and dull, why not have a little fun?” he said. “People got a kick out of it, that’s good.”
The potty décor may have also had some unintended consequences. Some people were “stealing” portable latrines – moving them closer to their own homes so they wouldn’t have to walk as far, but would-be toilet thieves seemed less likely to take the decorated commodes.
“We got calls constantly about people tipping them over, moving them,” said Loibl, a Valley City police officer. “One night we had four or five that got tipped over.”
As companies started removing the temporary toilets April 30, residents such as Emily Gee and Kim Esch drove around town, photographing their favorites.
“I wanted to put it in my scrapbook,” Esch said. “This is a flood to remember.”
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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526