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Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications Co., Published October 04 2011

Churchs Ferry petitions Ramsey County to disband

CHURCHS FERRY, N.D. – The future remains murky for this flood-plagued city after the Ramsey County Commission received a petition Tuesday to begin the process of disbanding Churchs Ferry.

The petition, signed by four of Churchs Ferry’s nine voting-age residents, calls for an election to decide whether it will continue to be an incorporated city.

But before any election is held on the issue, county officials want to meet with Churchs Ferry residents and a mediator in an attempt to resolve a deeply divided rift among the two factions.

“I don’t like the thought of it,” County Commission Chairman Joe Belford said. “When we start disbanding cities because of the flooding, we’re really going to be in tough shape.”

According to state law, such a petition requires signatures of 25 percent of the number of people who voted in the last election. Since four Churchs Ferry residents voted in that election, it only required one signature, according to Ramsey County State’s Attorney Lonnie Olson.

Since it’s a valid petition, an election must take place, he said.

County Auditor Elizabeth Fischer said the next local election is June 2012, although it’s possible to have a special election before that time.

Churchs Ferry is a community of about a dozen people along U.S. Highway 2, about 20 miles west of the city of Devils Lake.

In 2000, the community had a population of almost 80. However, the majority of residents left town as part of a federal flood acquisition project as the result of flooding in the Devils Lake Basin.

A handful of families stayed, and residents decided to keep its incorporated status.

But as local sewer and other services have been threatened, more have moved away. Today, there are just four households remaining.

Two are adamant about keeping the city intact; the other two want to disband, according to Lorrie Sandberg, one of the petitioners.

One argument put forward by the petitioners is city services are limited to trash collection and street maintenance.

The petition states, in part, “Intergovernmental aid, grants and services would be more efficient and available if the city were dissolved and these items were folded into already existing township or county projects.”

Mayor Paul Christiansen, who operates a vehicle repair business in Churchs Ferry, declined to comment on the issue.

Kevin Bonham writes for the Grand Forks Herald