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Revealing the past

A group of UND students is setting out in hopes of solving a mystery in East Grand Forks as part of a class project.

The existence of a bootlegging tunnel used during the Prohibition Era that once extended from Whitey's bar and restaurant to the Red River has been rumored for some time, and geology professor Will Gosnold thought it would be a good challenge for his geophysics class to investigate.

"I like to give them things to do that have real applications, and the rumored bootleggers tunnel from the river to Whitey's would be an interesting thing to look for," he said.

Collecting data

Project work would start at the Sorlie Bridge with students making their way north for about 100 meters. The class would use several methods to attempt to locate the long-buried structure by collecting data. A device built to discharge a shotgun shell would be placed over a water-filled hole dug into the ground and then fired.

Gosnold emphasized the device used to fire the shell is not actually a gun, and it would not produce a loud noise.

"It only just makes a whomp," he said. "It makes less sound than banging on a table."

The resulting waves of energy and how they pass through or are reflected by the ground are analyzed and compiled into a seismic reflection profile. Disparities in the profile could signal changes in ground composition or the presence of a void β€” in this case, the rumored tunnel.

Students also would create a gravity profile during the project, which involves plotting changes in gravity that could reveal differences in density. An empty underground space would create an anomaly in the profile.

The last method the class would employ is electrical resistivity, which measures how much a material opposes electrical charges and uses that data to produce images.

"All of these geophysical techniques will tell us something about the subsurface," Gosnold said.

Once it is gathered, it would take the group about a week to analyze the data.

Gosnold brought the project to the East Grand Forks City Council last week to seek permission to conduct the field project on the Greenway.

Other surprises

Several lifelong residents at the meeting warned them they might find more than just a tunnel.

"There was a zoo down there, and there were different rooms filled in," Mayor Lynn Stauss said.

Council member Henry Tweten also noted other underground artifacts from the city's past, including below-ground apartments.

In general, the project received initial support from the council, and a final vote will be taken Tuesday on granting the group permission to conduct the work.

"I think it's a great idea, and I'll be interested in seeing the findings," Council President Mark Olstad said.

If given approval, students would be out on the Greenway near the end of the month, likely near Oct. 29, Gosnold said.