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Northern valley towns begin sandbagging operations ahead of flooding

Towns in northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota have started preparing sandbags to use during spring and overland flooding.

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Members of the Mayport CG track team help fill hundreds of sandbags.
Matt Henson / WDAY

MAYVILLE, N.D. — As temperatures warm and snow begins to melt, towns in the northern Red River Valley and surrounding region have started to prepare for high water.

In Mayville, North Dakota, volunteers on Tuesday, April 11, the first of two days of sandbagging, made around 1,000 sandbags. Other towns in the region are following suit, including Minto, North Dakota, where sandbagging operations are set to begin on Friday morning, April 14.

Minto Mayor Larry Jamieson said 10,000 empty sandbags have been delivered to the city, and with the help of students from Minto Public School, he hopes to see a portion of them filled.

“They step right up,” said Jamieson. “I mean, it’s fun to get out of school for a bit, but they work hard and I don’t know what we’d do — we have an older population here at times and the kids do a good job. They make a difference for us.”

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May-Port CG bus driver Allan Kville helps his students, literally and figuratively, navigate their school days, just like he did for their grandparents.

The latest National Weather Service flood outlook issued by the National Weather Service on March 23 predicts a crest somewhere between 5.7 feet and 7.2 feet for the Forest River in Minto. Minor flooding begins at 6 feet and Old Highway 81 is covered at 7.5 feet.

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“We’re cautiously optimistic, but we’re going to be prepared for more than what’s predicted now,” said Jamieson.

Any filled sandbags not needed in Minto will be sent to other places in need of flood protection.

“So they won’t go to waste, that’s for sure,” he said.

In Red Lake County, Minnesota, overland flooding often becomes a problem as the snowpack melts, said Red Lake County Sheriff Mitch Bernstein. On Tuesday, April 11, volunteer firefighters and sheriff’s deputies in Red Lake Falls filled around 1,000 sandbags to use if public infrastructure is threatened by flooding.

“For the most part, if our culverts open up and rivers open up we’re usually in pretty good shape, but we do have those issues sometimes,” Bernstein said.

If people in Red Lake County notice a blocked culvert, Bernstein says they should contact the Minnesota Highway Department or Red Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

On Wednesday in Mayville, volunteers from the community and surrounding towns added to existing pallets of sandbags. While he did not have a complete total on Wednesday afternoon, Christopher Larson, Mayville Fire and Rescue public information officer, said the city hoped to fill around 2,000 bags total.

“In talking with our city mayor, we feel that hitting 2,000 sandbags this year will be what we need, and we’ve made it right in that range the last couple of years,” Larson said.

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Between the two days of sandbagging, around 50 volunteers helped out. Sandbagging on Wednesday was originally scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but Larson said operations were extended through 5 p.m. and more volunteers were expected to help out.

“We’ve had residents within the city of Mayville come out and help sandbag — Portland, the surrounding areas — they’ve been here,” said Larson. “It’s a testament to our community when these guys come out and take time out of their busy days.”

In Mayville, low areas in the western part of town are at the greatest risk of flooding. Downstream of Mayville in Hillsboro, the Goose River is expected to surpass the moderate flood stage of 13 feet. In the March 23 flood outlook the NWS predicted a 50% chance of the Goose River cresting at 13.9 feet and a 25% chance of it cresting at 15.1 feet.

According to the weather service, major flooding is expected in many cities along the mainstream Red River this spring, including in Grand Forks, Oslo and Pembina. Drayton is at risk of moderate flooding.

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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