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Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service, Published October 13 2013

New life, new hope for Minnewaukan

MINNEWAUKAN, N.D. – Debbie Dyste is the first resident of a new subdivision being built 2 miles northwest and substantially higher than this town’s original site, which is threatened by flooding at Devils Lake.

But the Minnewaukan Public School music teacher hasn’t moved in yet to her new home, located just a drumbeat away from the new school. Instead, she’s been commuting from her parents’ home about 15 miles away.

Her house, which she bought about 18 months ago, has no electricity or water service.

That should change, perhaps this week.

Otter Tail Power Co. plans to connect the new residential subdivision to its system. The power will then start the pumps connected to the city’s new water tower, which boasts the town’s name and slogan: “Little City by the Big Lake.”

The prospect of electricity and water service isn’t the only event bringing smiles to Minnewaukan officials.

Another eight homes will be relocated over the next few months, according to Mayor Myron Jury, who will be Dyste’s next-door neighbor any day now, as soon as his house is moved to the new community.

The school district also will move two buildings to the new site, where one will serve as a daycare center, the other as a weight room for the school’s athletes. Minnewaukan’s new $10.6 million school opened in January.

First business

Next year, the new subdivision will see its first business, a truck stop-gas station-convenience store to be built along U.S. Highway 281 across from the entrance to the subdivision.

“That will be great,” Jury said. “Now, if you’re running out of gas, the closest place is 10 miles away in Oberon. And that’s not always open when you need it.”

The town has lost its grocery store and its only gas station in the past couple of years.

“Minnewaukan desperately needs a store,” said Diane Schroeder-Monda, owner of Mi-Ty Contracting, which bought the property. “I thought I could maybe give back to the community and give youths some opportunities to learn how to work.”

She and her husband, Shane, lived in Minnewaukan for about a decade before building a new home on Devils Lake. Shane Monda also served on the Minnewaukan City Council.

“We still have property there,” she said. “We want to see it succeed.”

Mi-Ty was general contractor on the $21 million first phase of a project to raise and lengthen the levees protecting the city of Devils Lake.

The Mondas plan to start construction in the spring and have the store open later in the year.

One town, two sites

Although the new community is separated from the original Minnewaukan by 2 miles, it is not a separate entity.

“It’s all Minnewaukan,” Jury said. “We don’t have a name for it yet.”

Unofficially, it’s been referred to as New Minnewaukan. Others call it the Streifel Addition, he said, because the land was purchased from local residents Bill and Rose Streifel.

Planning for the new subdivision began more than two years ago, as local, state and federal officials scrambled to protect Minnewaukan from the fast-rising and expanding Devils Lake, which threatened the old school, dozens of houses and the city’s water and sewer systems.

Between 1993 and 2011, the lake rose by more than 30 feet and quadrupled in size, reaching a record elevation of 1,454.3 feet above sea level.

In that time, Minnewaukan’s population decreased by about 50 percent. Officially, it dropped from 401 in 1990 to 318 in 2000 and to 224 in 2010. However, officials now estimate it at 170 to 180.

The core of Minnewaukan, which is the government seat of Benson County, remains. The business district, the courthouse and a few dozen houses are on land above 1,460 feet, 2 feet higher than the elevation at which engineers estimate the lake will overflow into the Sheyenne River.

Besides $10.6 million for the school, another $13.3 million, mostly from federal and state sources, is being invested in infrastructure for the new subdivision and to protect the original townsite.

Those are investments local officials say were necessary to keep Minnewaukan from being washed away into oblivion and to encourage people to stay and others to move to the resort community.

They envision the new high-and-dry subdivision becoming a tourism-recreation destination for Devils Lake’s thriving fishing industry.