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Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications Co., Published October 24 2011

Vote to dissolve divides flood-plagued Churchs Ferry

CHURCHS FERRY, N.D. – This flood-plagued town of four homes near Devils Lake is divided by a question to be put to a vote next year – to remain an official city or dissolve.

The Ramsey County Commission set a Jan. 10 date for a special election on the issue.

The commission’s action follows the filing of a petition signed by four of Churchs Ferry’s nine voting-age residents. Since the petition has been ruled valid, an election must take place, according to Ramsey County State’s Attorney Lonnie Olson.

The petition has resulted in a major rift between those who want the city to disband and those who want Churchs Ferry to stay incorporated as a city.

Churchs Ferry is a community of about a dozen people located along U.S. Highway 2 about 20 miles west of Devils Lake. In 2000, it had a population of about 100 people, but most 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 incorporated status. As sewer and other services have been threatened, more have moved away.

Today, just four households remain. The community’s last church, Zion Lutheran, closed in May as floodwater came on the property and the sewer system was lost.

Petitioners say the city provides only two services: trash collection and street maintenance.

The petition states, in part, “Inter governmental 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.”

The city was established in 1894 as Church’s Ferry and incorporated in 1897. It later dropped the apostrophe to comply with U.S. Postal Service town name regulations. Its peak population was 457 in 1910. The school closed in 1988.

During flood-prompted buyouts in 2001, the town’s biggest business, BTR Farmers Co-op, moved a few miles west to rural Leeds, and dozens of residents moved, many of them to Leeds, Devils Lake or other towns.

But a small core of residents stayed, vowing to keep the community together. For at least some of them, that means keeping the city incorporated, which allows it to collect taxes for local services.

Kevin Bonham writes for the Grand Forks Herald