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Point Bridge to close today in Grand Forks

An East Grand Forks City crew puts up the floodwall on 12 St. NW in East Grand Forks Monday in preperation for the coming crest on the Red River. (John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald)

GRAND FORKS - The Point Bridge connecting Grand Forks and East Grand Forks on Minnesota Avenue will close at 9 a.m. this morning, a Grand Forks official said.

Kevin Dean, public information officer, said the bridge is normally closed when the river reaches about 45 feet. That is expected to happen by Thursday.

But the cities decided to close it a bit early, Dean said, because officials expect water levels to come up very quickly.

Another reason is expected snowfall later this week will make placing the interlocking panels that close the road more difficult, he said. If snow and ice get into the grooves, it would be harder for workers to get everything sealed.

"We still want to be ahead of the curve and get the work done before the weather would make it more difficult for us to get it done," he said.

Dean said the river isn't at the normal height when this would happen, but by Thursday, it will be approaching major flood stage of 46 feet.

The Greenway in both cities also was closed to the public this morning.

Getting around

The other bridges spanning the Red River in Grand Forks also are facing closures in the next week.

The Sorlie Bridge on DeMers Avenue, connecting the downtown areas, needs to be closed at a river level of about 45 feet. Dean said that closure will probably happen "sooner rather than later," most likely before the end of the week.

The sidewalk closures along DeMers Avenue leading to the bridge have already been put in place, he said.

The Kennedy Bridge on Gateway Drive is higher than the other two bridges, but still needs to be closed at a river level of about 52 feet. That could happen if the crest warrants it, Dean said.

"We just don't know about that third one," he said. "Safety will be the way to determine that."

Dean said he didn't anticipate any road closures in Grand Forks because of flooding because the city's flood protection system should be adequate. But he acknowledged closing the bridges could make getting around a hard thing to do.

"We do recognize that there certainly could be some travel inconveniences," he said. "But it is certainly a small price to pay compared to what we had to deal with in 1997."

Randy Gust, East Grand Forks Fire Department chief, said the city is coordinating with Grand Forks in all its bridge closure decisions.

If all three bridges between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks are closed, the nearest open crossing may be more than 70 miles away in Pembina, N.D. There are nearer bridges, such as in Oslo, Minn., but they most likely would be closed this spring, as well.

Gust said most people crossed the river in Fargo during the 1997 flood that devastated Grand Forks. But Fargo is looking at a bad flood this year, so he said he doesn't expect crossings in the south to remain open.

East Grand Forks already has closed some roads because of the rising river level, including River Road on the city's north end. The 12th Street Northwest closure was planned to be placed first, then closures at Fourth Street Northwest and River Road will follow as necessary.

Hill Street near Sacred Heart School also will be closed by today, Gust said.

Gust said the city is working with safety in mind while also trying to keep traffic impact to a minimum. "It's all an inconvenience, but it's just something that both sides need to do to make sure we stay ahead of the game," he said.

Dean urged curious residents and visitors to not climb the dikes or go around barricades to get a view of the river because of safety issues. He said there isn't much to see right now, but the expected rapid increases this week soon will make the area dangerous.

"We don't want to take the chances of anyone falling and getting hurt, or slipping down into the waters when they start to come up higher," he said. "It's completely for safety's sake."

Altru's plans

On Monday, Altru Hospital officials said they have some plans in place to deal with bridge closures between North Dakota and Minnesota.

Art Culver, Ambulance Department supervisor, said they will station an ambulance at the East Grand Forks Fire Department 24 hours a day if the Point and Sorlie bridges are closed.

This would enable them to have quick response to the city's south end and also reach northwestern Minnesota cities when needed. He said Altru has done this before, most recently during Blizzard Coyote two weeks ago.

If the Kennedy Bridge on Gateway Drive also closes, Crookston Area Ambulance will cover Altru's territory in Polk and Marshall counties. Most patients would be transported to hospitals in Thief River Falls and Crookston.

Critical patients in Minnesota still could be airlifted across the river to Altru by Bemidji-based Northern Memorial, about a 30-minute flight from Grand Forks.

Culver said MeritCare Hosptial in Fargo also could provide helicopter assistance to Altru if possible.

About 60 ambulance services across Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota have said they may be able to assist in Red River Valley communities this spring.

Kevin Kopplin, disaster preparedness coordinator at Altru, said patients of any regional health care facility should make sure they have an adequate supply of prescription medication in case they are isolated by rising rivers.

He doesn't anticipate Altru Hospital will have to close, he said, but officials are instead ensuring they are ready to handle patients from other communities that may have high floods this year.

Kopplin said the hospital has developed their emergency plan over the course of decades. "We've practiced for stuff like this," he said. "It just kind of all comes together automatically."

Altru officials will continue to meet and update their plans as they get more information.

UND students pitch in

In addition to allowing students to volunteer for flood-fighting efforts in the Fargo-Moorhead area, UND officials said steps are under way to prepare for flooding on campus.

The English Coulee running through campus will be monitored at all hours, according to a university press release. Other actions include readying sewer gates and shut-off valves, and emergency generators are on hand, the release said.

Jason Uhlir, director of campus security and safety, said officials are concerned about this spring's flooding chances, but they remain "cautiously optimistic" that work done since 1997's flood will prevent major problems this year.

Examples include the addition of shutoff valves that prevent backflow into buildings in case of sewer backup, as well as a new steam heat distribution system that wouldn't allow water to get into building connections.

Still, Uhlir said the university is preparing for any potential impacts from spring flooding. "I think it's important that despite all those protections, we're being diligent," he said.

UND officials will hold campus-wide flood information meetings at 2 p.m. today in the Memorial Union, 9 a.m. Wednesday in Clifford Hall and 2 p.m. Wednesday in Gamble Hall.