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Oslo, Minn., calls for volunteers to fill sandbags

OSLO, Minn. -- This island of flood-fighting fortitude is shifting into another gear in its seemingly annual battle against the Red River. Volunteers are being asked to show up at Oslo Fire Hall from 5 to 6 p.m. today to help fill sandbags. The c...

Oslo
Loads of clay are dumped on a dike Wednesday in Oslo, Minn., as crews from Gowan Construction build up a section along the west side of town. Herald photo by Eric Hylden

OSLO, Minn. -- This island of flood-fighting fortitude is shifting into another gear in its seemingly annual battle against the Red River.

Volunteers are being asked to show up at Oslo Fire Hall from 5 to 6 p.m. today to help fill sandbags.

The community also is asking for volunteers to walk the ring dike that surrounds this town of 340 that experienced a record flood of 38.19 feet last year. The town was virtually cut off from the surrounding area for about six weeks.

On Wednesday, crews from Gowan Construction, based in rural Oslo, piled and packed 4,200 cubic yards of fresh black dirt atop a 2,000-foot section of River Street, right next to the Red River on the city's west side, to bring the city's ring dike protection to 40.5 feet.

"That gives us about 3 feet of freeboard," said Scott Kosmatka, an Oslo City Council member and its flood information officer.

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Water overtops Minnesota Highway 1, the main route into the city from the east, at 37.5 feet. It flows over N.D. Highway 54, which leads into the city from the west, at about 36.5 feet.

The Red at Oslo was at 34.44 feet at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The National Weather Service's latest seven-day outlook calls for it to rise to about 36 feet Friday and to about 37 feet by late Sunday or Monday.

"We can handle 37 feet," Kosmatka said. "Anything more and we'll have problems."

Seven of the top 10 flood crests in Oslo's history have occurred since 1996, and the crests have been 37 feet or higher eight different years, including 2009, 2006 and 2001.

The 2009 flood fight was complicated by ice jams in the Red at the Northern Plains Railroad bridge on the west end of town. For six weeks, the only access into town was by boat or heavy equipment.

Last year, about 150 volunteers registered to walk the dikes throughout the flood fight, City Clerk Karen Cote said. The community also received dike-monitoring help from the Minnesota National Guard.

It takes about 40 volunteers a day to monitor the dike and to staff the emergency operations center at Oslo City Hall 24 hours a day, Cote said.

Like the dike-walking duties, Oslo residents are accustomed to the task of raising the dike along River Street. The 3-foot raise has to be removed after each flood fight because of issues with dike stability, Kosmatka said.

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The city is seeking a $5 million flood hazard mitigation grant through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to provide permanent protection along River Street that would be certified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The community has learned that some funding has been included in the 2010 bonding bill. But the amount still is unknown, Mayor Florence Elden said.

The city has received a startup grant of about $245,000 for the project. It also has approved a $104,000 local bond for its share of the project.

The Corps has set a deadline of April 30, 2011, for the city to have its protection certified.

The city hired Barr Engineering to conduct soil testing and other tests to determine the best option, whether it's a permanent levee, a flood wall, or some other option, Kosmatka said.

The testing has been going on for a year, but it stalled when local priorities shifted to flood fighting, and it won't resume until the present flood threat has passed.

"As soon as the flooding is done, we'll get back to that project," Kosmatka said. "We're hoping it's soon."

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

Related Topics: 2010 FLOODSOSLORED RIVER
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