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Oslo recovering from massive watermain break

A worker examines the damage from a water main break Friday in Oslo, Minn. At one point this week, all residents in the small town north of Grand Forks were without water. Photo by John Hageman

The sign kindly asks customers to excuse the mess, but there’s very little sign of one.

The low hum of the floor fans scattered throughout the aisles of Kosmatka’s Market, the grocery store in the small Minnesota town of Oslo, are one of the only pieces of evidence of a water main break that left the whole town without water for a few hours Thursday. The market, owned by the town’s mayor Scott Kosmatka, was the only business that took on water during the incident. 

Late this morning, a two-man crew was fixing the second, smaller break behind Kosmatka’s Market. A group of Chevy cars belonging to a nearby dealership were moved from the adjacent lot to across the highway to make room for the cleanup effort.

Cities across Minnesota are dealing with water pipe issues because of how deep into the ground the frost has reached, said City Clerk Karen Cote. Oslo, a town of about 300 in Marshall County about 25 miles north of Grand Forks, hasn’t been immune to that. 

“People are pretty understanding,” Kosmatka said of city residents.

But this incident is unique in that it cut off water to the entire town for about eight hours Thursday. As of this morning, three businesses were still without water, as was one resident. About 450,000 gallons of water were lost, Kosmatka said.  

A boil-water order was still in effect today, and Kosmatka said it might not be lifted until Friday at the earliest. After crews fix the pipe, the Minnesota Health Department will run tests on water quality, Kosmatka said.

Cote said water was being added to the city’s water tower today, and crews were scraping streets that had been flooded with water that quickly turned to ice.

One business still without water was the Street is Neat motorcycle shop. Owner Tim Gowan said it’s affected them very little, except for the fact they can’t go to the bathroom or wash any of the bikes.

The market, which Kosmatka bought about a decade ago, was open for business Friday. Kosmatka said he didn’t lose any merchandise when water seeped into the store, even though the entire floor was covered in water varying in depth of between 1 and 3 inches.

Water pipe breaks aren’t the only water-related issue Oslo faces. The town has been cut off when the adjacent Red River floods, and Kosmatka has advocated for building roads at higher elevations to prevent water from rushing over them.

“Oslo’s known for water,” Kosmatka said. “Whether it’s a flood or lack of water.”

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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