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Dave Roepke and Eric Peterson, Forum staff writers, Published March 16 2010

Cass County residents torn over preparations

It was a day for deliveries and deliberation in rural Cass County on Monday as homeowners scrambled to figure out how or if to hold back severe flooding for the second straight year.

“Is it coming or ain’t it?” said Terry Freier, who lives in a bend of the Wild Rice River on Cossette Drive. “We’re in the maybe stages.”

Much like the Red River it feeds a few miles south of Fargo, forecasters expected the Wild Rice to keep a bit under record levels when it likely crests on Saturday.

That makes Rob Hansen wonder what he should do. He’s owns one of the four homes on the wet side of a clay levee that will protect the south side of Fargo from Wild Rice breakouts.

He said he built a small dike wall last year that cut through his garage, and his house stayed dry. If the predictions hold true, it’s a lot of unneeded work.

“It’s a hell of a mess and a lot of bother,” Hansen said. “You would like

to have the county come tell you ‘Yes, you have to or, no, you don’t.’ ”

As of Monday afternoon, Hansen was still mulling it over. Freier played it safe, beginning his sandbag wall a few days ago.

“You can’t wait,” he said.

County officials agreed: Don’t wait.

Sheriff Paul Laney said he’s worried people will be inclined to take this flood easy due to past success, like a winning football team gone cocky.

“That’s scary,” Laney said. “People need to get serious about this.”

Laney said he’s expecting federal agencies that will partner with his deputies on rescue operations to be ready Wednesday, and a few roads already had to be closed due to high water. A list of road closures will be posted on the county’s Web site at casscountynd.gov.

Construction should start later today on clay levees Cass builds to protect rural subdivisions and stretches of south Fargo, said Bonnie Johnson, administrator for Cass County. Roughly one mile of the five miles of dirt dikes is still up from last year, and crews plan to work around the clock to finish late this week.

Cass officials discussed plans for placement of clay levees at a Stanley Township meeting Monday night. About 100 residents turned out, some expressing concern over having roads to their homes divided by dikes, cutting them off from help and resources.

County engineer Keith Berndt assured residents that the clay levees would be sealed on roadways as close to crest as possible.

Johnson said the county made 50,000 sandbags on Monday and will make that many today. Filled bags not kept back for emergencies will go to homeowners who live adjacent to levees that seal them on the wet side.

Johnson said the timing is designed to alleviate the trouble some had last year with getting sand delivered to areas where levees were being built.

For those who don’t live on the wet side of a levee, the county sandbag distribution center at 220 21st St. N.W. in West Fargo was doing steady business, Johnson said.

Individuals have to pay 5 cents each for sandbags in Cass County only when protecting private property where public infrastructure is not involved. Sandbags come with no charge for people who live in prioritized areas and/or where there are public infrastructure concerns, Johnson said.

The county will also run a volunteer labor center to direct help to rural homes. That will work out of the Urban Plains Center in southwest Fargo and should start today. In some of the typically hard-hit areas south of the metro, homeowners said Monday they’ll need volunteers.

“They usually wait until you’re desperate, and it’s hard to get here,” said Dave Bernhardt, who lives with Debbie Doran on 88th Avenue South.

The couple lives so close to the river that Bernhardt caught a 20-pound catfish in his backyard last year. A water line is still stained on the home’s blue siding. They’re still working to fix their home from 2009 and are dismayed at digging in for yet another round.

“I really don’t want to do it again this year. I really don’t,” Doran said.

On Forest River Road, Kent Olson said the revised forecasts shrank the time people have to respond, as it did for many last year.

“We were thinking we’d start on Saturday,” he said.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535 and

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513