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Hillsboro demands personal responsibility in fighting water

HILLSBORO, N.D. -- As flood volunteers in Traill County prepare for their annual spring water battle, they're vowing to get tougher on people who do little or nothing to help themselves prevent flood damage.

HILLSBORO, N.D. -- As flood volunteers in Traill County prepare for their annual spring water battle, they're vowing to get tougher on people who do little or nothing to help themselves prevent flood damage.

This spring, people who request help to sandbag around their homes not only will have to register, they'll be asked to move snowpiles away from the house in advance of the help arriving. They'll also be required to have polyethylene or plastic sheeting, sand and sandbags at their property.

The requirements are the result of frustration among flood volunteers, not only in Traill County but throughout the Red River Valley, who spend countless hours sandbagging their neighbors' homes but lack the manpower to help everybody.

"If you're not prepared, you just might get wet," Hillsboro Fire Chief Dan Christianson said at a flood preparation meeting this week. "People have to prepare themselves.

"I'm talking about people with 8 feet of snow around the house, no sandbags, no poly, and we have to go through water to get to the house. They've done nothing to prepare."


Lee Brenna, fire chief at Mayville Volunteer Fire Department, said his crews were unable to save one house from the flooding Goose River last year because residents were totally unprepared.

"It does slow us down," he said. "We were moving vehicles from snowbanks and moving vehicles when we could have been sandbagging. It takes a lot of time."

In some communities this winter, volunteer firefighters have been calling or visiting residents who had requested sandbagging help last year.

The message: Please start preparing for the flood before we get there. Fire departments leave themselves susceptible to risk of a major emergency if their limited number of volunteers are spending long days sandbagging.

"We're willing to help anybody, but they have to be willing to help themselves, too," Brenna said.

Traill County is shifting its flood preparations into second gear this week, as the National Weather Service on Friday slightly lowered the probability of major flooding along the Goose River at Hillsboro. The latest outlook lists a 23 percent chance of reaching major flood stage of 16 feet. That's down from 27 percent two weeks ago.

Traill County and the city of Mayville already have declared flood emergencies. That allows the local governments to access emergency funds for the spring flood fight. Hillsboro City Commission plans to issue a flood emergency declaration at its next meeting.

Hillsboro and Mayville-Portland schools, as well as Mayville State University, have agreed to allow students out of class to help with sandbagging efforts, if necessary.


Sheriff Mike Crocker, who also is the county emergency manager, said the county will use more automated equipment to issue flood warnings and messages, including calls for volunteers. Emergency-911 dispatchers will be able to broadcast information, including changes in conditions.

The sheriff is dividing the county into east and west districts for sandbagging efforts, with each fire department coordinating efforts. He asked each to compile a list of volunteers and leaders, along with phone numbers, by March 15. Capt. Steve Hunt, chief deputy, will coordinate the sandbagging program.

The county also will start a series of public service announcements in the local newspapers and on radio next week. They'll focus on flood preparations, asking residents who have been flooded or flood-threatened before to:

- Move snow and ice away from houses.

- Remove items from basements.

- Make arrangements in advance to move cattle.

- Get on a sandbagging list.

"Let's get proactive instead of reactive," the sheriff said.


In 2009, Mayville was hit with what some call flash flooding, when the river spilled in a different pattern from previous floods. Mayville is upstream from Hillsboro.

Three Mayville businesses, the Pizza Shop, Kost Hydroponics and Mayville Plumbing and Heating, plus four houses in the Mayville area received substantial flooding.

"Last year, the flooding was totally in reverse," the Mayville fire chief said. "Usually, in the area from west of Portland to Mayville, we had a day to get ready. Last year, we had just hours. It flooded like we've never seen it flood before."

Mayville might get a new tool this spring to provide earlier warning.

The only real-time, automated U.S. Geological Survey gauge in the county is located at Hillsboro.

A new automated gauge is scheduled to be placed along the Goose River just south of Hatton, on the mainstem of the Goose River, before it flows through Mayville, said Gary Thompson, a member of the Traill County Water Resource District and the Red River Joint Water Board.

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

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