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Associated Press, Published June 10 2011

Small town along SD-ND border welcomes high water

POLLOCK, S.D. (AP) — In this community that once was doomed by an intentional flood on the Missouri River, residents now welcome the rising water on Lake Oahe.

Located just south of the North Dakota border, the South Dakota town of 241 people was caught in drought only a few years ago. A boat ramp had to be extended to get to Oahe, and the conditions put a serious dent in the hunting and fishing business, which Pollock leans on heavily.

"It was the next thing to dry," said Arthur Dienert, who owns the Lakeview Motel and is a town historian.

The water started to creep back the past couple of years thanks to generous snowfalls and rain.

Now the water is back in a big way, and the boat ramp extension to get to the river is 10 feet under, resident Les Sjomeling said.

"We'll have fish in here no matter how high the water gets," he said.

The past couple of weeks, the town has bustled with activity from out-of-town anglers. Ervin Dienert — Arthur's cousin — co-owns a bait shop and room rental business and said business has been good.

"They have a lot of people here fishing," he said. "Last week one day, there were probably 75 boats on a ramp here."

Gerry Grueneich of Ellendale, N.D., started fishing Oahe in 1979 with a group of anglers that now numbers 36 from all over the country. Grueneich and some of his companions were buying licenses Wednesday and preparing to head onto the water.

"It was terrible," he said of the drought years. "It wasn't very good at all."

The flooding, he added, could make it tougher to catch fish. But in the long run, it will be better.

"It's going to be tougher fishing in there now with all the trash in there," he predicted.

For Pollock residents, the flooding, which remains well below the town, is better than the alternative.

"It's better off with this, really," Delores Kluckman said. "When it's down low, it hurts the economy. At that time, we lost business because they depend on the hunting and fishing."

Pollock already has lost to the Missouri River once. Founded in 1901 when the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad extended its rail service, the town was sacrificed when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began work on the Oahe Dam. Members of the town voted in 1953 to move south of their current site.

The corps purchased the old town and, in 1955, the new site was rededicated. Kluckman, a retired professor from South Dakota State University, participated in the ceremony.

In the next few years, some buildings from the old town were moved to the new site and buildings were constructed. The deal required the federal government to pay for water and sewer at the new site, which the old town did not have, Kluckman said. The federal government also had to build a new school to replace one that had been completed in 1937.

In 1956, residents planted 15,000 trees at the new site.

After the Oahe Dam was dedicated in 1962, the landscape slowly began to be flooded as Lake Oahe took shape. In 1963, Arthur Dienert planted his last crop of wheat on land destined to be beneath Oahe's waters, he said. And then it was lost.

A history of Pollock published in 1989 says that thanks to a cheese plant and the town's recreation activities, "the future of Pollock looks bright as the town celebrates the South Dakota Centennial."

The cheese plant still anchors Pollock. In fact, it's hiring. But the town's fortunes haven't been bright. The latest Census Bureau numbers confirm another decade of lost population. But to lose recreation would have been even tougher on Pollock. Ervin Dienert estimates that as many as one-quarter of the homes in town are owned by people in other communities and states who use them as bases for hunting and fishing excursions. That's why people in Pollock are happy Oahe is full.

In the last drought, old Pollock re-emerged from the deep.

"You could see the streets of the old town," Arthur Dienert said. "Some people even went down and walked on them. It's hard to believe the water came back up that fast."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.