Conference explores the story of water in North Dakota

BISMARCK—From devastating droughts to ferocious floods, water has played a critical role in shaping North Dakota’s history.

A conference this week in Bismarck will explore that history in an effort to improve the future.

“Too Much or Too Little: The Story of Water in North Dakota” is the theme of this year’s Governor’s Conference on North Dakota History. The annual event will take place Friday and Saturday at the Bismarck Civic Center.

Conference coordinator Erik Holland said the topic was selected 18 months ago, but the discussion is timely after this year’s statewide flooding.

“As people listen to the speakers at our conference, we hope that when they begin to make decisions for the future related to water in North Dakota, they are able to have some of that historical perspective and make good long-term decisions,” said Holland, curator of education for the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

The conference begins with a geological perspective and covers issues ranging from North Dakota’s water resource management in the 1930s to the influence of evolving national environmental policies on water management.

State Engineer Todd Sando will discuss the water management challenges that North Dakota has faced and will face in the months and years ahead.

Former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is the keynote speaker and will deliver his address, “The Long, Tough Battle Between Mother Nature and North Dakota” on Friday night.

Other speakers include former Gov. Allen Olson, American Indian relations specialist and retired National Park Service superintendent Gerard Baker, and State Flood Recovery Coordinator Murray Sagsveen.

North Dakota Water Users Association Executive Vice President Michael Dwyer will moderate a panel discussion about North Dakota’s water use.

“Water has such a rich history, and so it’s exciting that they’ve chosen this topic for a history conference,” he said. “The current water issues are woven into the historical water issues. It will be very educational.”

For more information about the conference, visit

Cities ask state lawmakers for flood protection funding

BISMARCK—North Dakota cities struggling to pay for flood protection are asking state lawmakers for financial support.

In between legislative sessions, lawmakers are meeting to hear about water issues across the state. Representatives from Valley City, Lisbon and Fort Ransom were among those to appear before the legislative Water-Related Topics Overview Committee on Monday.

“The record amount of rainfall, snowfall and subsequent flooding have created dire situations in all three communities,” said Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City.

The cities are doing what they can to move forward with permanent flood protection, but none of them are in a position to cover the cost, he said. Valley City Mayor Bob Werkhoven said it’s time for state funding to be allocated.

“The river channel to the Sheyenne is simply not, at this point, large enough to accommodate anticipated flows,” he said. “And we don’t want to be another Minot. All three cities mentioned have run out of money due to the frequency of flooding during this wet cycle.”

The expense to protect Valley City and other flood-related costs in 2009 and 2011 reached $38 million, City Commissioner Matt Pedersen told state lawmakers.

Both the 2009 and 2011 spring floods mirrored the 500-year flood event modeling of approximately 21 feet, he said. If an emergency levee were to fail, the city could experience $217 million in residential, commercial and exempt property losses, he said.

“We were inches away from a Minot this summer,” Pedersen said, referring to the flooding along the Souris (Mouse) River that damaged 4,100 homes and resulted in the evacuation of one-fourth of Minot.

“We had significant rainfall. We almost flooded. We were inches away, so we need to invest in Valley City,” Pedersen told lawmakers.

Valley City’s immediate needs include $3.6 million for property buyouts, he said.

Fort Ransom Mayor James Thernes also asked state lawmakers for help. Three years of unprecedented flooding have taken a toll on the community and exhausted the city’s finances, he said.

“We find ourselves in desperate need of permanent flood control mitigation measures,” he said.

The city would like financial assistance for soils borings and testing, as well as a preliminary engineering feasibility study for the construction of permanent flood control.

Lisbon City Councilman Jerry Gemar said the costs to fight flooding are “getting too much for us to deal with financially,” and the city is losing people due to flooding concerns. The city needs help to move forward with flood protection, he said.

“Due to high costs of fighting the river, our city has depleted their funds and net worth to an extreme level,” he said in his testimony. “We are to the point (of) financial instability to where normal operations in our community are at risk.”

Sen. Tom Fischer, R-Fargo, said his committee is taking information from all of the entities and putting together a booklet of testimony to forward to the full Legislature to review during the special session in November.

North Dakota special session preview

BISMARCK—Before going on vacation last week, I spoke with Gov. Jack Dalrymple about what to expect from this year’s special legislative session.

He met with legislative leaders last week to discuss the parameters of the session, which will begin Nov. 7 and is expected to last five days. (See the Executive Order here.)

Topics will include redistricting, turning the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo decision back over to the State Board of Higher Education, and flood disaster relief, Dalrymple said.

Other issues for discussion are a state health insurance exchange and funding for a new human services eligibility system software package, he said. Federal funding for the system is available for a limited time, so there’s a financial advantage to getting started on it earlier, he said.

As far as flood relief, it’s hard to get into specifics at this point, but there are three basic areas identified as needs that will not be covered by disaster recovery funding, Dalrymple said.

The first is an improved and expanded floodway through the Burlington and Minot areas. The state is in the midst of a design plan for that through the state water engineer and will likely need to buy out additional properties beyond the area where FEMA will buy out houses, Dalrymple said.

“We’re going to need some real estate where we can build permanent levees,” he said. “FEMA will not pay for permanent levees.”

The state will also look at infrastructure funding, such as water, sewer, curb and gutter, as flooded communities begin to rebuild.

Dalrymple said they have also identified a need for some kind of homeowner assistance, particularly in the Minot area, for people who want to rebuild their homes but may not have the resources to do it.

“That’s something that’s going to take more discussion and more analysis, but is a need that I think all three of us (Dalrymple, House Majority Leader Al Carlson and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner) acknowledged is there,” Dalrymple said.

The state could look into a “very friendly” loan program that allows people to repay their loan over time and is easier to get than a typical bank loan, he said.

Black Eyed Peas concert raises more than $1.3 million

MINOT, N.D.—The Black Eyed Peas benefit concert here raised more than $1.3 million to help flood victims.

The total fundraising amount has not been finalized as other donations are still being tallied, including Black Eyed Peas merchandise sales, tips provided at the VIP reception and other contributions, a news release from the Minot Area Community Foundation said.

“On behalf of myself and the great people of North Dakota, I would like to thank, Taboo, and Fergie Ferg for their incredible act of kindness,” Minot native and actor Josh Duhamel said in a statement. “The Black Eyed Peas and their band, Bucky Johnson, rocked the house on Saturday night and raised a ton of money for the flood victims of Minot. We will never forget what they did.”

Duhamel, who is married to Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie, was instrumental in getting the band to perform Saturday night in Minot.

The concert broke a new grandstand attendance and receipts record. The previous record was the KISS concert in 2010 with 15,082 in attendance. Initial counts show Saturday’s concert brought out 15,800 people, the news release said.

“This was a feat of epic proportion, and it resulted in an epic event that will leave a legacy in this city. I am humbled to be the steward of such generosity,” Ken Kitzman, executive director of the foundation, said in a statement.

The Minot Rising T-shirts, designed by LA-based designer Tokidoki, sold out at the concert and in pre-sales. More shirts are being ordered and will be available at, the release said.

My Josh Duhamel morning

BISMARCK–Josh Duhamel isn’t the first celebrity I’ve interviewed, but he’s definitely one I’ll always remember.

Originally slated to visit with him in person on Saturday about his trip to Minot, I got an early morning phone call telling me there was a change of plans. Due to his packed schedule, I’d instead be talking to him on the phone this morning.

I rushed into work to notify the four newspapers and three TV stations that I work for that the story was now coming for tomorrow, not Sunday. The Forum wanted me to capture sound from my phone conversation, so I spent the morning making sure that it would work properly and doing several tests. The last thing a girl wants is to make a fool of herself in front of Josh Duhamel.

Instead, I ended up making a fool of myself in front of the Fargo newsroom. I’d forgotten that I’d earlier asked a male co-worker to call me for one last sound check. So, when my phone rang 25 minutes before the scheduled interview and the caller said, “This is Josh,” I made a mad rush to turn on all of my equipment, find my questions and begin the interview.

It seemed odd to me that “Josh” was being a bit rude to me, but I took it in stride as I was still trying to get organized. When he told me that he and Fergie had split up, I knew I was being punked. 

Twenty minutes later, the real Josh Duhamel called and was as nice and polite as could be. I very much enjoyed our conversation, which you can read here and listen to a portion of it, as well. I’ll also provide coverage on Saturday from the Black Eyed Peas concert in Minot, so look for that in Sunday’s papers.

As for The Forum, I’ll think of a way to punk them back. Josh has a sense of humor. Maybe he can help me.

Flood recovery coordinator updates legislators on Minot

BISMARCK—North Dakota’s flood recovery coordinator gave legislators a glimpse Wednesday of the help Minot is hoping to get during the Legislature’s special session in November.

Maj. Gen. Murray Sagsveen was one of the panelists Wednesday at the Community Flood Recovery Conference in Bismarck.

About 165 government officials, business representatives and members of the public attended the conference, said Dot Frank, a spokeswoman for the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce. The chamber hosted the event.

Goals were to learn from other communities that have gone through disasters, to create a sense of support and to start consensus building on flood recovery issues.

During a legislative-focused session that several state lawmakers attended, Sagsveen said he had insight into the special session requests that may come out of Minot.

The first is infrastructure funding. The main problem in Minot is lack of housing, he said. About 4,000 homes were damaged in this summer’s flood in a city that already had a housing shortage, he said.

The city wants new housing developments to start next spring, but there needs to be water and sewer infrastructure in the new development area, Sagsveen said.

“The thinking is, if they can have an appropriation to the city to jump start the infrastructure, that will jump start the housing development and start to alleviate the housing (shortage),” he said.

The second proposal is home buyout money as the state moves forward with improved flood control in the Souris (Mouse) River Basin, he said.

“The second concept then is for the Legislature to appropriate money to buy the proposed homes in the right of way so that those homes can be acquired immediately and then the people who are bought out can turn that money around and buy homes as quickly as possible,” Sagsveen said.

The city of Minot is still developing dollar amounts for these proposals, he said.

Sagsveen is also considering another proposal after attending a conference presentation.

Dave Miller, Iowa’s former Homeland Security and Emergency Management administrator, discussed the creation of the Rebuild Iowa Office after the state endured massive flooding in 2008.

This temporary state agency focused on ensuring the state was rebuilt safer, stronger and smarter than before the disaster, according to its website. The office served as a one-stop shop for people to get help, file complaints and find information, Miller said

Sagsveen said this idea is “worthy of serious consideration.” As the state flood coordinator, he said he’s only one person and having a recovery office with a clear focus could be valuable for the state.

He said he wants to discuss this with the governor and state emergency officials to see if the idea should be considered during the November session.

Earlier in the day, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said North Dakota is on track to receive more than $786 million to help individuals and communities recover from flooding.

In August, President Barack Obama approved the state’s request for the federal government to reimburse 90 percent of the eligible costs incurred from major flooding. Based on claims to date, this breaks down to $200 million for road and bridge damage and $270 million for public infrastructure damage, Hoeven said.

The amount also provides $37.4 million to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the statewide flood fight, $91 million in FEMA individual assistance and $188 million in Small Business Administration disaster loans.

Additional federal hazard mitigation grants will be allocated this fall, Hoeven said, and he continues to work to secure community development block grant funding to help communities.

Sagsveen said the conference helped “immeasurably.”

“I’ve had some experience with Grand Forks and other areas, but to listen to particularly the Iowa situation with what they did in response to that was very helpful,” he said.

A smaller version of the conference will be offered today in Minot.

North Dakota flood costs expected to top $1 billion

Updated 4:15 p.m. BISMARCK—The cost of flooding across North Dakota this year is expected to reach $1 billion, the state’s adjutant general said Tuesday.

The amount includes more than $400 million in government services and damage, Maj. Gen David Sprynczynatyk told state legislators at a meeting in the Capitol.

Expenses include nearly $20 million in National Guard costs, about $10 million in additional expenses through the Department of Transportation and $13 million in debris removal, he said.

Public infrastructure costs are expected to reach $250 million for damaged roads, bridges, schools, water treatment facilities and sewers. About $150 million of that is expected to be for Minot and Ward County, Sprynczynatyk said.

The total also includes $60 million in individual assistance and $50 million in hazard mitigation to prevent or minimize future flood damage.

How the bill is divided among the federal, state and local governments depends on the expense category.

However, about $350 million will end up being federal expense, with the balance a combination of state and local expense, Sprynczynatyk said.

The state is prepared to handle the situation through a disaster relief fund established by the Legislature, he said. Due to the magnitude of the costs, he expects to use all of the money appropriated.

However, the state can then borrow money from the Bank of North Dakota and go back to the Legislature for a deficiency appropriation, Sprynczynatyk said.

In addition, more than 4,600 homes in Ward, Burleigh and Morton counties have structure damage, which could reach $600 million to $700 million of individual expense, Sprynczynatyk said.

“At this point in time, I think this will become at least a billion-dollar flood event for the people of North Dakota, considering everything that took place earlier this spring and through the last few months,” he said.

Sprynczynatyk also told legislators the 211 hot line has received more than 2,100 flood-related calls. The 211 service is available in North Dakota and in Clay County in Minnesota. It provides information about health and human services, confidential listening and referrals.

“What we’re seeing now is a great number of suicide issues and concerns,” Sprynczynatyk said. “My personal concern is that, as people begin to go back into their homes and see the extent of the damage and realize the impact … the number of calls is going to go up dramatically.

Legislators on the Water-Related Topics Overview Committee heard updates from across the state on Tuesday. Topics included Devils Lake and Ramsey County, Nelson County, Minot and Ward County, and Bismarck and Burleigh County water issues.

One after another, city and county officials stepped up to tell legislators about the challenges of floodwaters, from evacuated residents to damaged homes to lost livelihoods.

Minot officials described seeing homes covered in black mold up to the ceilings, sheetrock falling off and floors torn up. More than 4,000 homes were impacted in the record-setting flood that resulted in more than 11,000 residents evacuating from the state’s fourth-largest city.

“We’re going to need help in Minot,” said Dean Frantsvog, president of the Minot City Council. “As much as we’d love to say we’re going to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and things like that, we’re going to need help.”

The expense of the flood is going to be “astronomical,” he said. The city is working with the federal government and doing what it can to receive disaster funding.

However, the state of the national economy is different from the 1990s when Grand Forks received support after its flood, he said.

“We are going to come forward and hopefully the state can help the citizens of Minot out because if there was ever a time, it’s now,” he said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Fischer, R-Fargo, said the goal of Tuesday’s meeting was to take an inventory of where the state is at, so legislators can move forward and determine how to address the issues.

Fischer wants the committee to meet at least three more times before October. He said he wants to have a report to present to all lawmakers during the November special session.

Napolitano plans to visit Minot on Wednesday

BISMARCK–U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano plans to visit Minot and surrounding areas on Wednesday for an aerial tour of flooding and to meet with local, state and federal officials, the Governor’s Office announced late Friday.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said it’s good news that Napolitano will see for herself the extent of flood damage along the Mouse River.

“I’m anxious to show her just how significant the damages are and to discuss the impacts of other disasters in our state and how important it is for us to receive adequate assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” he said in a statement.

More than 11,000 Minot residents evacuated from their homes last month to escape record-setting flooding that impacted 4,100 structures. Flooding affected one-fourth of the state’s fourth-largest city.

Dalrymple and the state’s congressional delegation are encouraging Napolitano to expand her visit to include a tour of flooding in the Bismarck-Mandan area and in the Devils Lake Basin, a news release said.

Major flooding also has caused extensive damage to property along the Missouri River where about 900 residences have been evacuated, the release said. In the Devils Lake Basin, hundreds of structures are flooded and an estimated 30,000 additional acres of farmland have been swallowed up by the rising lake since this spring.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said they’re grateful Napolitano accepted their invitation, and they will continue working with her to ensure resources and assistance are available to flood-impacted communities.

No report or photograph has the same impact as seeing the water first hand, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., agreed.

“As we continue to work together, it is important for Secretary Napolitano to see the devastation first hand, meet with local leaders on the ground, as well as taking the time to visit with those most affected,” Berg said in a statement. “North Dakotans need to know that when the water recedes, we will be there to help, we will be there to clean, and we will be there to ensure a strong recovery.”

AG warns about Minot flood scams

BISMARCK – Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is warning flood victims to be wary of a text message scam.
Officials at the Minot disaster recovery center say numerous individuals have reported receiving  a suspicious text message, Stenehjem said in a news release. 
The messages, which are being sent to telephone prefixes assigned to the Minot area, suggest that if the recipient’s home or business was damaged by flood, the recipient can avoid delays and be placed immediately on a list simply by texting “flood” back to the sender. If the receipt is not a flood victim, the instruction is to reply with a text stating “no.”
“The most important thing to remember is to not respond to these text messages,” Stenehjem said in a statement. “In past text message scams, it appears any response goes to a server and the unsuspecting victims are automatically registered for various offers they were not aware of and did not agree to, as well as expensive premium text messaging subscriptions.”
The scam artists “spoofed” a legitimate telephone number belonging to a Minot resident, resulting in angry calls to the legitimate owner of the phone number. This person did not send the bogus text messages, Stenehjem said in the news release.
He warned flood victims to be wary of any scams, including fake inspectors of flood-damaged homes. 
Parrell Grossman, director of the Consumer Protection Division, expects to see scam artists continuing to take advantage of flood recovery efforts across the state. He said his staff will be “vigilantly watching” for new scams and will alert the public.
Anyone receiving a suspicious flood-related text message, email or telephone call can contact the Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-472-2600.

Prairie Rose Games begin this week

BISMARCK – The Prairie Rose State Games will celebrate its 25th anniversary here this week with what may be the final games.

The sporting event begins at 7 p.m. CT Friday with the opening ceremony at the Bismarck Community Bowl and continues through Sunday.

More than 1,000 athletes of various ages will participate in events throughout the weekend. New events are the Hoop It Up basketball tournament, adult co-ed kickball, off-road duathlon, family fishing and remote control car racing.

Games Board President Robert King of Valley City said the event offers something for everybody.

“You see people from 5 years old to 75 or 80 years old,” he said.

King called the games “a labor of love, but said the financial burden has become too high to continue the games beyond this year. The board of directors is dissolving, but he hopes a community will decide to continue the games.

The Prairie Rose State Games website states that its mission is to foster amateur sports competition within the state. The goal is to promote knowledge of physical fitness and sports, improve sportsmanship, and provide participation opportunities and recognition for amateur athletes and the public.

Popular events are track and field, a road race and a race walk. Youth baseball numbers are also doing well this year, said Paula Redmann, community relations manager for Bismarck Parks and Recreation.

A number of events offer on-site registration, so there is still time to get involved.

Some adjustments were needed this year due to flooding, such as moving sand volleyball, but other spots were found, Redmann said. More than 300 volunteers will assist with the games.

The opening ceremony will feature Skydive Fargo and the parade of athletes. Former Gov. George Sinner will light the torch; the games began under his administration, Redmann said.

“That kicks off the whole weekend of family fun and sweat,” she said.

The public is encouraged to come out and watch the events for free. Events will take place throughout Bismarck-Mandan. Headquarters is at the main north entrance to Kirkwood Mall can provide directions to events. You can also find the list of events and locations here.

Redmann said it’s possible Bismarck may continue the games in the future. However, a community discussion is needed first, as well as getting through the flood.

“We have not said, ‘Yup, we’ll take up the torch,’ so to speak,” she said. “Right now, let’s just kind of heal up a little bit and help our community get better.”


Check out my new to North Dakota series here.