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A military truck carrying a load of sandbags travels west across the Rainbow Bridge on Wednesday in Valley City. Photo by David Samson / The Forum
A military truck carrying a load of sandbags travels west across the Rainbow Bridge on Wednesday in Valley City. Photo by David Samson / The Forum

Valley City: 'We're on top of it' -- City prepares for near-record flooding

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Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

VALLEY CITY, N.D. - Dump trucks zipped back and forth here Wednesday as contractors raised clay levees in anticipation of near-record flooding on the Sheyenne River.

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Mayor Bob Werkhoven said he's confident the city is prepared for the river to reach its peak today, which is expected to be 2 feet higher than initially predicted.

"We're on top of it, but it was a quick adjustment," Werkhoven said.

The Sheyenne River was at 20.52 feet as of 9:45 p.m. Wednesday.

The National Weather Service expects the river to remain high for several days. The record was 20.69 feet, set in 2009.

Homeowners added to their own dikes on Wednesday and the city reopened Sandbag Central, calling on volunteers to fill additional bags for possible emergencies.

"If water is going to stay on them (levees) for eight to 10 days, that's a lot of pressure on them and something could happen," Werkhoven said.

The National Guard's Quick Reaction Force responded Wednesday to a weak spot in a levee.

Werkhoven said there was some seepage in a levee near Riverside Gardens and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to build a secondary dike in that area.

A flash flood warning was in effect through 6 p.m. Wednesday for that part of the city as the dikes were being prepared.

The National Guard also packed 850 sandbags around a second levee that was leaking.

Guardsmen are patrolling levees and pumps around the clock and have sandbags on standby at two locations to respond quickly.

Flows out of the Baldhill Dam Wednesday were at similar levels to 2009.

The corps also is raising levees in Lisbon and Fort Ransom due to extra releases out of the Baldhill Dam based on weather service forecasts.

Rural rush

South of Valley City along Highway 21, often called the Kathryn Road, a mini Sandbag Central is set up near Doreen Sayler's home.

Sayler has had sleepless nights as the Sheyenne creeps closer to the home she shares with her parents and daughter.

"Anxiety is probably a good word," Sayler said of her mood Wednesday.

In 2009, the family had to evacuate and had 3½ feet of water in their basement. This year, they're filling large grain bags with sand to better protect the house and try to keep the driveway open.

"We feel more comfortable now versus '09 because we're more prepared," Sayler said.

Her sister-in-law Marsha Sayler, who lives about a mile south of there, evacuated with her family Tuesday night.

Their house is safe, but they live between two bridges that are under water and have relocated to their cabin in Sibley.

When they drove over the bridge Tuesday evening, it had about an inch of water. But by Wednesday afternoon, floodwaters had already overtaken the bridge and a large stretch of the road.

Roger Berntson, a Barnes County commissioner, said it'd be easier to list the roads that are open in the county than the ones that are under water or washed out.

"One word would be disaster," Berntson said of the impacts on the county. "The damage is worse than '09."

The main concern for the county is people who are becoming isolated without access to emergency services, Berntson said.

Gail Pederson, who lives south of Valley City, is accessing her home with a tractor and animal-print waders. Her family doesn't have plans to evacuate.

"I feel secure," Pederson said. "I know it worked in 2009."

Lessons learned

From Bob and Pat Fearing's deck, they have a front-row view of the Sheyenne rushing by the Rainbow Bridge.

But the two aren't worried because they've been through this before. The house is Bob Fearing's boyhood home, where he's lived since 1948. The couple bought it in 1960.

"It's getting to be a little harder because of the frequency," said Pat Fearing.

Valley City State University officials expect to see minimal impacts from this year's flood.

In 2009, the university sent students home weeks early largely because of the city's strained sanitary sewer system.

This year, classes have continued as normal, with the exception of one day when students were released to fill sandbags.

President Steve Shirley said a flood response team began planning in January. The main effects they've seen are minor headaches and levees creating detours to campus.

"We've seen this in the recent past. We know what to do," Shirley said. "I think the city is well prepared."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590

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