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Take precautions when venturing onto frozen lakes, says U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is asking people to take precautions when venturing onto frozen lakes this winter. Pipestem Dam Manager Bob Martin said ice should be at least 4 inches thick to support a person and 8 inches thick to support a veh...

Ice safety
Two visiting college students from Florida, Chris Madio, left, and Justin Clementi, were trying their luck at ice fishing Thursday on the Jamestown Reservoir. Madio, whose grandmother lives in the Buffalo City, said the ice was about 20 inches thick. (John M. Steiner / The Sun )

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is asking people to take precautions when venturing onto frozen lakes this winter.

Pipestem Dam Manager Bob Martin said ice should be at least 4 inches thick to support a person and 8 inches thick to support a vehicle.

“But when you say that, that’s uniform, and not too many lakes in North Dakota freeze at the exact same thickness,” he said. “That’s the biggest deal; you could have ice out there for three weeks, and it’s not all uniform. There might be a spring in one area, so some areas may be 8 inches, some of them may be 1 inch or you may have open water out there.”

Jeff Keller, natural resource manager for the Corps in Williston, said in a news release from the Corps that he and other Corps workers had to assist in removing two vehicles from the ice of an unspecified lake last week.

“Fortunately, we’ve had no fatalities and no injuries (in that particular incident),” he said. “But, apparently people are turning to social media and daring each other to participate in what they are calling ‘ice racing’ or ‘ice driving.’”

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An SUV broke through the ice at Sibley Park near Bismarck on Sunday, sending four people to the hospital to be treated for hypothermia. Keller said the Corps does not encourage or recommend driving on the ice at any time.

“Thin ice or open water may exist anywhere along the river or across the lake, and pressure ridges occur throughout the winter,” he said.

In early December, emergency responders called off a search for Cole Schwindt, 34, of Moorhead, Minn., until spring. Schwindt has been missing since a snowmobile he was riding was found partially submerged in the Sheyenne River in West Fargo. Martin said river ice is extremely dangerous and unpredictable.

“There’s always moving water,” he said. “Jamestown Reservoir isn’t releasing water (currently) but there’s still groundwater coming into the river system, and Pipestem is releasing 5 cubic feet per second,” he said. “When there’s moving water under there, that’s got a tendency to really make the ice unsafe. Because there’s moving water, it just doesn’t allow it to freeze as much, and then you add the friction of the water moving on the ice.”

Martin said both local reservoirs were almost entirely frozen over by mid-November, but there were still areas of open water.

“Waterfowl were keeping a couple of the areas open for several weeks,” he said. “… In town, with the flowing waters, there’s several open areas. … I checked for waterfowl just on Monday and there’s three or four fairly large areas that are open along the James and Pipestem rivers in town, so you really have to use caution when you’re on that.”

Martin said the Corps and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department do not check ice for safety, and people who go out on the ice are “on their own.”

“For one thing the Corp or the Game and Fish Department doesn’t want their employees out there snooping around and possibly running into trouble walking on the ice,” he said. “You’ve got to use extreme caution.”

Related Topics: FISHING
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