Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications Co., Published June 20 2010
Farmers struggle through wet cycleBROCKET, N.D. – Ron Pishtek and Kevin Matejcek are farming and ranching less and less every year, even every month or every week.
Water is swallowing their rural Brocket farms and those of their neighbors as well as the roads to get there.
“Last year, some of my cows were actually swimming from hilltop to hilltop to get to grass where they could graze,” Pishtek said.
Half of the 1,100 acres he and his mother have are in Walsh County; the other half are in Nelson. But he’s farming only about 300 now.
He has about 50 head of Red Angus cattle. Matejcek raises Black Angus.
“I have land I haven’t been able to get to for three years,” Pishtek said. “It was a small slough when I was growing up.”
Like rural Devils Lake and communities throughout neighboring Ramsey and Benson counties, northern Nelson and western Walsh counties have been struggling through a 17-year wet cycle.
But they fear they and their neighbors are being forgotten because they’re 20 miles away from the expanding Devils Lake.
Nelson County’s Enterprise Township and Walsh County’s Sauter and Perth townships sit on a divide between the Devils Lake and Red River basins. But with all the water, it’s difficult to detect any divide in the landscape at all.
Every year, more roads go under water, cutting off access to farm and ranchland and to rural homes. It affects fire and ambulance service, the Postal Service, UPS, Federal Express and other services.
Matejcek is a township supervisor in Nelson County’s Enterprise Township. Pishtek is chairman of the Sauter Township board, serving with Matejcek’s father, Gordon.
They say their townships and others in the region are in dire need of emergency funding to repair and raise roads, as well as an emergency declaration to immediately allow cattle grazing and hay production on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.
As local government officials, they’re frustrated, not just over their own livelihoods but for the welfare of people living here.
“There’s water 6 feet deep in some of these ditches,” Matejcek said. “What would happen if someone went off the road at night?”
The constant flood is hurting the local economy, too.
Officials at Lake Region Grain Elevator in Devils Lake, for example, say they have train cars waiting to haul grain to market, but the Northern Plains Railroad’s railbed through this region is so soft that it cannot support loaded railcars. That’s in spite of the fact that the railroad has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to shore up the line.
The two township supervisors say they’d rather be spending their summers farming and raising cattle. But they’re being forced to spend more and more of their time dealing with the seemingly never-ending flood, navigating and monitoring an ever-shifting maze of wet roads and wading through paperwork.
Kevin Bonham is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald