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Becker County plays good neighbor to Clay County employees

The Red River may be about 45 miles away from Detroit Lakes, but some Becker County employees are busy preparing for the worst.

Several departments within Becker County are forming contingency plans, which would help out Clay County employees in the event of a flood.

"We've already had some of our STS (sentenced to serve) inmates over there filling sandbags for two weeks," said Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon, "and when the time comes to place them, we'll send them back over there to help build the dikes."

Gordon says the sheriff's department is also talking about the possibility of taking some patrol shifts in Clay County.

"In '09 some of those guys (Clay county officers) were working 16-hour days, day after day, so we took over some of the traffic patrols and complaint calls, so we're ready to do that again if they need us."

Gordon also says if the Clay County jail is jeopardized, Becker County jail doors will swing open for displaced inmates.

"Or if there are any arrests made in Clay County during that time, they can be brought here to be booked in and arraigned in the morning," Gordon said.

The Becker County Attorney's office is also extending its long arm of the law out to help Clay County counterparts.

"We'll open up our offices so they can work on lockups, juvenile cases and emergency protective care for children," said Becker County Attorney Mike Fritz, adding, "we're ready to help however we can, even to sandbag."

"At 39 feet we'll start talking about evacuation because we are only a block away from the river," said Jan Cossette, who is the court administrator for both Clay County and Becker County.

Working in both places puts Cossette in perfect position to coordinate flood efforts.

"We went through all of this in '09, we are definitely better prepared this year, with plans in place."

Cossette says she and three others from Clay County would temporarily transfer over to Becker County to handle detention hearings and any type of emergency case.

Meanwhile, workers at Becker County Human Services are hammering out their own plans to assist their neighbors to the west.

Human Services Director Nancy Nelson says not only have they offered their office space to fellow social workers, but they're mapping out plans for an emergency shelter.

"We are ready to open up the National Guard Armory in case they have people looking for a place to stay."

Nelson says they've also been coordinating with the transit department in case they are needed in evacuations.

"In '09 we helped transport people out of Moorhead nursing homes to some homes around Detroit Lakes, and we have been discussing that too, so we're ready to do it again if we have to."

Becker County Administrator Tom Mortenson says while the departments may never have to execute their plans, it's better to be proactive behind the scenes before the emergency happens.

"We have a synergy working together that comes out of the cooperation, and it's one of the stories that people don't see unless the emergency actually happens," he said.

Mortenson says Becker County would be reimbursed for most of the expenses through FEMA, the state, and Clay County.

Right now nobody knows for sure if all this 'behind the scenes' work will all be in vain because everything depends on what the river does.

"We don't have any crest predictions yet, other than it looks like about a 50 percent chance of getting to somewhere between 38.9 feet and 42.3 feet, which is well into major flood stage," said National Weather Service Meteorologist Geoff Grochocinski.

Grochocinski says it could be higher or lower, depending on how much precipitation the area gets and how quickly the weather warms up.