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A bird's eye view

ABOVE THE RED RIVER VALLEY -- From the air, it appears that the flood of 2010 is just a trickle -- at least in the northern valley -- compared with the floods of 2009, 2006 and especially 1997.

Flooding aerial
A view of the flooding Red River in downtown Grand Forks and East Grand Forks Monday as the Red River nears a crest. Herald photo by Eric Hylden

ABOVE THE RED RIVER VALLEY -- From the air, it appears that the flood of 2010 is just a trickle -- at least in the northern valley -- compared with the floods of 2009, 2006 and especially 1997.

The Herald took a snapshot of the flooding northern valley at about midday Monday.

The aerial tour was guided by Dan Geist, from Crookston Aviation Service, who piloted a Cessna 172 over the northern valley, from the Thompson Bridge south of Grand Forks to Drayton, N.D.

In contrast to previous floods, where water spread over farmland and roads 8, 10 or more miles on either side of the Red River, even as the Red contemplates a crest between Grand Forks and Oslo, Minn., this year, wet, black soil in fields less than a mile away appear to be almost ready for spring planting.

South of Grand Forks, where a new Thompson Bridge is under construction, the Red River has swallowed the old bridge deck.

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Large chucks of ice pressed against the old structure, the jam nearly as wide, and somewhat longer than, the 1,209-foot-long bridge being built about 150 feet to the north. But the river at this point is contained mostly within its banks.

The new bridge, which will have a deck 13 feet higher than the present bridge, is dry. In 1997, the old bridge deck was below 10 feet of water.

As we fly toward Grand Forks, tree-lined oxbows appear to be winding rows of overgrown bushes as the river channel all but disappears from view.

Quarter-sections of water-covered farm fields have large patches of black soil peeking through as we near south Grand Forks and the Grand Forks Country Club.

But the fields are mostly dry just a mile or so to the east and west.

Near the country club, a long ice jam looks to be floating slowly northward past 62nd Avenue South, water covering the road, in the area of the Burke Addition. The East Lake neighborhood is cut off. A half-dozen boats are docked near 62nd.

In East Grand Forks, the Red Lake River has submerged the street on the east end of the Point Bridge. But the Red is flowing with ease under the Sorlie and Kennedy bridges.

As we approach the area east of Manvel, N.D., north of Grand Forks, water spreads over entire quarter-sections of land under water, stretching five to six miles to the east.

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From Manvel to Oslo, Minn., a few scattered farmsteads are isolated, gravel lanes disappearing into temporary lakes.

But even here, from an altitude of just 2,100 feet, muddy fields can be seen just a mile or two away.

Minnesota Highway 1 is closed east of Oslo, Minn., the road under water just east of town.

To the west, trucks slowly make their way through a water-covered N.D. Highway 54, on their way to or from Interstate 29. A short Northern Plains Railroad train is stopped on the adjacent tracks, a few hundred yards west of the railroad bridge over the Red River.

While ice jams at the bridge contributed to a record flood crest -- and a two-month flood fight -- in Oslo in 2009, no ice is visible on this trip.

Traffic is moving normally along I-29, although water is apparent at some approaches and wet patches are visible along the roadway between Manvel and Oslo, where water did flow onto the highway over the weekend.

From Warsaw to Drayton, N.D., the water spreads out one to two miles on each side of the Red River. Beyond that, fewer than 20 percent of fields are water-covered.

Just south of Drayton, large ice sheets are breaking up as they snake their way through the expanded Red River channel.

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East of Drayton, the new, nearly 4,000-foot-long Drayton Bridge, still under construction, is high and dry, construction equipment standing idle until the flood threat passes. The bridge is expected to be completed later this year.

N.D. Highway 66, which crosses the river from Drayton, is submerged on the North Dakota side. While the deck of the old bridge is dry, the low-lying road is closed.

In Drayton, the Red has risen along the banks that run right to Main Street, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has built a temporary dike to keep the water out of harm's way.

The National Weather Service reports that the Red should crest at Drayton at about 42 feet by Wednesday, about three feet higher than the level at midday Monday.

As Geist banks his Cessna to the left to return to Crookston, the conversation turns to the weather and spring planting. He's a crop sprayer, and he figures he'll be working at that job before too long now.

In aerial tours past, large herds of deer could be seen huddled together on tiny patches of high ground to escape the water.

On this trip, only a few small flocks of geese flying are observed on their northward journey.

Even though the flood of 2010 may be one of the 10 largest in history, for most people in the northern Red River Valley, we agree, it is turning out to be the flood that never was.

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: 2010 FLOODSEAST GRAND FORKSRED RIVERRED RIVER VALLEY
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