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Emily Welker, Published April 03 2013

Biggest flood worry now is uncertainty for southern Cass

FARGO – After three years of back-to-back floods and a short breather last year, Cass County’s emergency officials say they’ve got pretty much every piece of equipment they need to fight this year’s possible top-five flood.

Except, that is, a crystal ball.

That’s the way Sheriff Paul Laney put it at a flood meeting for southern Cass County neighbors Wednesday night – saying county leaders will plan for the worst until the National Weather Service issues its deterministic forecast.

“I bet you’re getting real sick and tired of seeing us up here every spring, aren’t you?” asked the sheriff, rhetorically, of the crowd of 80 or so residents who turned out at Davies High School.

“It’s kind of a guessing game at this point,” said Cass County Engineer Keith Berndt. Berndt said that the three clay levees county crews are set to build once the river looks to top 35 feet will take anywhere from two to three days to build. The first will go in at 76th Avenue South on a short stretch of Forest River Road just south of the Maple Prairie area – prompting a sigh from one woman in the audience at the prospect of driving through clay-slicked roads for days, if not weeks, on end.

Another woman, her neighbor, compared it to “driving on snot for six weeks.”

“We’ve been through it in 2006 – and in 2009, 2010, 2011,” said Becky Hicks, who lives in the Maple Prairie development. “I’m worried a little about the stability of that levee.”

Berndt assured her that county crews will be out to reshape and steady its elevation across the levee’s surface.

Hicks said it’s a relief to have a home on the dry side of the levee, unlike some of her neighbors, who will be one of 300 or so homes throughout the county who will be on the wrong side of the dikes.

“Will they even have enough time to get the sandbags? I feel sorry for them,” Hicks said. “There’s still a lot of snow on the ground.”

Gloria Brown is one of those on the wrong side of the dikes who’s already thinking about sandbagging. In fact, she’s hoping to get some sandbags out from the county sometime next week because her property, at 308 River Drive S., is tough to sandbag once clay levees are in place.

Cass County Emergency Manager Dave Rogness said homeowners out in the county should consider early not just their need for sandbags but also for volunteers to throw them, saying it’s not always easy to get volunteers to go out into rural areas.

“We won’t send you volunteers in the middle of the night, and we won’t send you volunteers if they have to go through water to get to you,” said Rogness.

He said residents can make sandbag and volunteer requests and get flood questions answered via the county flood hotline. The county tactical operations center will be staffed with deputies starting Monday, and a staging area for National Guard soldiers to respond in the event of levee breaks or other emergencies will open at the Hickson Community Center, once the river hits the 36-foot stage at Oxbow.

Brown has been at her home on River Drive South, and she’s ready to be out. She’s hoping, based on what she’s heard about the latest buyout approvals from FEMA, that this flood will be her last.

“You can’t sell your home, can’t give it away, can’t get away,” she said.

“It gets old,” added Hicks.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541