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Valley City back in business

VALLEY CITY, N.D. - Bartender Bud Tabor pulled double duty Wednesday at the Broken Spoke Saloon in Valley City, N.D.

Upstairs, he poured drinks for the first time since Friday, when the city ordered all nonessential businesses closed after a sewer system failure.

In the basement, he and others took turns manning three pumps to keep up with seepage from the nearby Sheyenne River.

Still, it was good to be open again, said Tabor, whose son and daughter-in-law own the business.

"The regulars are back," he said.

The city lifted the mandatory business closure Wednesday after a temporary repair to the sanitary sewer system, Mayor Mary Lee Nielson said.

Crews were able to find and plug the area where river water was infiltrating the system, she said. That allowed the master lift station, which had been pumping out river water, to pump sewage again.

"So we decided the best way to test it out was to let our businesses open up, because they need to get some people in," she said.

The city also lifted its voluntary evacuation order for residents. Nielson said they are welcome to return, but only if they're willing to use portable restrooms spread throughout town. The city is asking residents not to flush toilets or pour liquid down drains.

"If they cannot get out to port-a-potties and use them, then we would ask them to wait until we get more of the (sewer) system going," she said.

Valley City has about 300 businesses, and up to 10 percent of them were allowed to stay open under the mandatory closure order, Nielson said.

One business - Budget Burger - openly defied the order. It was cited for violating city ordinance and faces up to a $1,000 fine, Nielson said.

"That's up to the judge," she said.

Budget Burger owner Tammy Drake said she plans to challenge the citation, saying it was unfair that eateries like hers were told to close while grocery stores and gas stations were serving cooked foods. Her burger joint collected all of its wastewater in a tank so it wouldn't go down the sewer, she said.

"I did it because I needed to pay my bills and I wanted to pay my staff," she said.

City officials had said on Monday that they would reevaluate the business closure situation on Friday, so Wednesday's announcement lifting the order came with short notice, Tabor said.

The restaurant side of the Broken Spoke won't be open until Friday because of time needed for food preparation, he said.

Meals will be served with plastic plates and utensils to avoid dishwashing, and wastewater from cooking will be captured in tanks.

At the John Deere Seeding Group, which employs about 320 people who have been out of work since Friday, a phone message for employees said the first shift was to report back to work at 6 a.m. today.

In another sign of life getting back to normal, the Rainbow Bridge reopened Tuesday night. Three of the city's eight driving bridges were open Wednesday, but three walking bridges were still closed, Nielson said.

The Sheyenne River continued its slow descent, falling below 18.6 feet Wednesday.

It's projected to drop below major flood stage of 17 feet on Monday.