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Published April 09 2011

Oakport Township fight still tough for some

OAKPORT TOWNSHIP, Minn. – Connie and Venal Kraemer, who live in the County 96 neighborhood just east of the Red River, watched as contractors built a temporary clay dike down the middle of Oakport Street on Friday afternoon.

“It doesn’t help us,” said Connie, who has lived in this riverside neighborhood with her family since 1969. “It helps Crystal Creek and all those pretty homes over there.”

It’s a familiar problem for township residents who live west of Oakport Street and south of Wall Street. As others in this township are protected by a network of permanent and Army Corps of Engineers-built temporary dikes, about 60 homeowners are on their own. The terrain and trees in their neighborhood, east of the Red, make it too difficult to build an extensive levee system here. And so homeowners who want to avoid floodwaters rely on family, neighbors and the occasional volunteer to help sandbag.

The Kraemers’ daughter, Stacy Frink, and her family have spent the past couple of days helping her parents build up a sandbag dike.

They want to avoid a repeat of 2009. Although they sandbagged then, the corps evacuated the neighborhood, and power was shut down. Without sump pumps, the Kraemers returned home to find every level of their home flooded except the top floor.

This time around, Frink’s husband, Tony, expressed concern that the Oakport Street dike could actually hurt people on the west side of it. “If it stops the water from going east, we don’t know how that’s going to play out,” he said.

“Does that mean there’s going to be more water around the house?”

Greg Anderson, outgoing township chair, says the dikes are designed so they don’t make river levels any higher for surrounding areas.

In fact, elsewhere in Oakport, the flood fight seemed to be going well. The township’s nearly completed permanent dike project has saved the majority of Oakport residents from the evacuations and flooded basements that besieged the community in the past.

“It’s hard to believe we’re getting nearly the same amount of water as we did in ’97,” Anderson said, while driving around the township Friday afternoon. “What a difference 14, 15 years have made.”

As he passed a home where kids played basketball in the driveway, he gestured toward them.

“People are living the way they’re supposed to be living,” he said. “That’s why we need dikes and we need diversions.”

One neighbor, who lives in Oakport’s Brentwood Acres, agreed the flood fight has grown much less stressful. Scott Erickson’s scenic view of woods and a coulee are now blocked by a steep clay dike, but he doesn’t mind.

“It’s a welcome addition,” Erickson said. His flood experience “was better than last year, and last year was better than the year before that.”

Now that Erickson doesn’t have to worry about his own home as much, “I can do sandbagging for other people. We’ve had so much help in the last two years; it’s nice to be able to give back.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525