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Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications, Published October 16 2012

Ground broken for New Minnewaukan development

While a new school already is nearing completion, ground officially was broken Monday for New Minnewaukan, N.D., a development being built to move a portion of the community out of reach of the chronically flooding Devils Lake.

Monday’s ceremony marked the beginning of a $3 million project to extend water and sewer lines, as well as to build access roads to the new neighborhood, about one mile away and about 30 feet higher than the original townsite.

“The people of Minnewaukan have shown tremendous perseverance and ingenuity in their efforts to preserve their community, and this funding will help to secure it for many years to come,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple and the state’s congressional delegation — Sen. Kent Conrad, Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg — said in a joint statement.

Minnewaukan, the Benson County seat on the southwestern shore of Devils Lake, has been in a flood fight for more than a decade.

In 1992, the lake was about 8 miles from the community. But as the lake has risen by more than 30 feet to a record elevation of 1,454.4 feet above sea level it has taken a toll on the community.

The city’s elevation ranges from about 1,452.5 feet to higher than 1,460 feet.

Devils Lake, normally a closed basin, would overflow naturally at an elevation of 1,458 feet. The lake has dropped about 3 feet since last year’s record, the drop attributed to a year-long dry period, plus the construction of three man-made outlets to the Sheyenne River.

Help from feds

The congressional delegation worked to secure a $4.8 million Federal Emergency Management Agency hazard mitigation grant to relocate portions of the city.

That includes $3.8 million to acquire and demolish 57 structures, plus $1 million to acquire and relocate 18 to higher ground. An additional 21 structures were acquired in related projects, according to the delegation.

Last year, FEMA built a 3,000-foot temporary levee around portions of Minnewaukan to protect Minnewaukan School, the city’s water tower and other infrastructure, as well as several dozen houses from the rising lake.

So far, 11 families have decided to relocate to New Minnewaukan, according to City Auditor Sherri Thompson.

The Benson County Housing Authority also is planning to build a new complex in New Minnewaukan, to replace its existing 24-unit facility.

The latest infrastructure project is being paid for with a $1.2 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, $1.5 million from the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund, and $350,000 from the city of Minnewaukan.

The project is expected to be completed by late November.

Minnewaukan Public School is scheduled to move into the new building, an $11 million project, during the Christmas holiday. The district received a $6 million U.S. Department of Education grant, plus state funding, to pay for the majority of the project.

The school’s K-12 enrollment is about 250, with about 90 of the students coming from nearby Spirit Lake Reservation.

The city’s population dropped from about 340 in 2000 to 228 in 2010, but local officials say it’s now fewer than 200 and perhaps as low as 185.