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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press Writer, Published July 26 2009

Flooded roads turn elevator into mail site

ROHRVILLE, N.D. – A dying North Dakota town whose only surviving structure is a 1915 grain elevator is coming back to life.

Rohrville can’t be found on the state’s official road map, but the elevator at the intersection of Ramsey County Road 3 and the Soo Line Railroad tracks has become the home of a temporary post office.

Mail carriers say they won’t detour around flooded roads to reach rural residents. So they bring mail to the elevator where the U.S. Postal Service has installed about two-dozen lock boxes on the corner of the lot that’s about 15 miles from the city of Devils Lake.

“I’m not real happy about it,” said Paul Becker, who lives eight miles north of the elevator. “I would like to see a different arrangement made so the mailman can go off his route.”

A wet cycle dating back to the early 1990s has pushed lakes, streams, sloughs and potholes in northeastern North Dakota to record levels. After a deluge earlier this month flooded roads near Rohrville, postal officials opted to scrap the normal mail route.

It means some residents have to travel about 10 miles over the soggy roads to get their mail.

“There are people here who I don’t recognize, so they aren’t real close neighbors,” Becker said, pulling out his mail recently.

Pete Nowacki, a regional spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said he did not know exactly how many customers were on the route, but he said the decision on the mailboxes came down to cost and common sense.

“You play kind of a cat-and-mouse game with Mother Nature,” Nowacki said. “Carriers follow a prescribed line of travel each day. When you have an issue with the road, you have to make an adjustment.”

Nowacki said the Postal Service hopes to reinstate the route but said the elevator delivery is “something we will do until we get a regular line of travel.”

The elevator is owned by Lake Region Grain of Devils Lake. It normally holds 150,000 pounds of grain, but is mostly empty this time of year, said Royal Dingman, the station manager.

Rosemary Schwan, who lives three miles from Rohrville, laughed when asked if her new post office was an inconvenience. “You betcha it is,” she said.

“There are a lot of roads that are under water,” Schwan said. “That last storm we had, we got about 6 inches of rain.”

Kevin Fieldsend, the county roads superintendent, said the overflowing potholes have created a new set of problems for areas such as Rohrville. Devils Lake has more than tripled in size since the 1990s, gobbling up roads and property near the town of the same name.

“The water doesn’t drain anywhere. It just sits in those coulees,” Fieldsend said.

“It’s an uphill battle. It’s just a lot of stress from people wanting their roads fixed, and I can’t give them any definitive answers,” he said.

“It just goes to show you how wet we are in the area,” Ramsey County Commissioner Joe Belford said. “It has created a whole bunch of mini-Devils Lakes.”

The elevator isn’t the only evidence of Rohr-ville’s existence. Foundations of old buildings remain on the south side of the tracks.

“There used to be a gas station. And quite likely a post office,” Dingman said.

“I heard there used to be a post office right here,” Becker said with a smile. “I guess we’re coming back full circle.”

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