Fort Yates faces its own flooding concerns, seeks volunteers

FORT YATES, N.D. – Largely overshadowed by other flood efforts, this community is also bracing for rising floodwaters and wondering what the full impact is going to be.

Seventy miles south of Bismarck near the South Dakota border, Fort Yates is nestled along Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River. The community of about 1,500 is located on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

The swollen lake is inching closer to homes, the road providing access in and out of the city and the Sitting Bull burial site, which is surrounded by sandbags.

“We’re just waiting to see how much water’s going to be coming down our way and sort of, you know, preparing for it,” Sioux County Sheriff Frank Landeis said Friday. “We’re still filling sandbags and just more or less keeping an eye on everything, so if it does start rising, we’re one step ahead of it.”

The Governor’s Office said Friday that engineers determined waves are going over the top of the main road, resulting in possible erosion of the riprap over time. The Corps of Engineers has agreed to raise the riprap elevation on both sides of the causeway to ensure the main artery into the community remains open.

The corps has also agreed to provide flood mitigation measures to protect the Sitting Bull monument and the Fort Yates water intake, a main source of water for the community, a news release said.

Lindsey Twinn, 20, said there’s a mix of emotions in the city right now, with some people more worried than others. Swirling rumors aren’t helping, said Tourism Director LaDonna Allard.

“Tribal council is trying to dispel rumors,” she said. “The more the rumors spread, the more the people are terrified.”

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Vice Chairman Mike Faith said they’re taking a proactive approach to keep the flood situation under control. There are daily briefings, and updates are frequently posted on http://www.standingrock.org/ to keep the public informed and to combat rumors, he said.

The tribe is in contact with the governors in North Dakota and South Dakota, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has personnel on site, he said.

“One thing we want to stress to everybody is the safety of our people and, of course, after that would be infrastructure,” Faith said.

There are plans in place if tribal headquarters, the hospital and law enforcement need to evacuate, he said. Schools will open if there are emergency evacuations of the public.

Corps of Engineers tribal liaison Joel Ames said the corps is doing everything it can to maintain control of the water to protect lives, infrastructure and property.

“This isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon,” he said. “It’s going to be going on for awhile.”

The large size of Lake Oahe is beneficial because it helps control water level increases, he said.

“When the water comes in, it’s not like you’re going to see just a jump over at Fort Yates,” Ames said. “Water is going to disperse over the whole lake area. It’s not just a little pool. It’s a big, big bathtub, so to speak.”

Right now, the situation is under control, he said. Still, any heavy rainfall and rapid runoff could change predictions, he said. Residents near the shoreline should be prepared in case they need to evacuate.

Sandbagging is ongoing in Fort Yates and in need of volunteers. Grady and Bobbi Kraft and their family made the 60-mile trip from Timber Lake, S.D., on Thursday to help out.

“It’s the thing to do: help your fellow neighbor,” Bobbi Kraft said.

Susan Davila of Selfridge, N.D., also came to help. Davila, who works at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, said they need to be prepared for whatever is going to happen.

“This is for real. If we all work together like we are, we should be a little bit prepared,” she said.

Tim Harper and his neighbors have spent recent days sandbagging their homes. On Thursday, he estimated water was 100 to 200 feet from his house. He showed a picture of the large fish found just beyond his backyard and knows the water will soon follow.

“This is just the beginning,” he said.

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