Managing the unmanageable

More than two years after 2011’s devastating Souris River flood, Minot still has that torrential water on the brain, with debris removal and reclamation projects yet ongoing and even some residents having to live in Federal Emergency Management Agency shelters. But progress has certainly been made, and city departments are already looking forward to the future.

“We’ve come leaps and bounds,” Randy Burckhard was pleased to say. Which is not to say the task is complete, as evidenced by the dozens of tidy sheaves of paperwork still covering most of the surfaces in his office. “We have a ways to go yet,” he said. “By this time next year, I hope we’ll be done.”

Head of Minot Park District’s maintenance department at the time, when the state of emergency was declared that May 10 he received a call from the director of parks asking if he would take over as the newly-established flood recovery manager.

Burckhard took the job, explaining “I just felt I would do whatever I could to help the park district.”

The task ahead was daunting. Fifty-five park buildings and facilities were damaged or ruined, with a vast acreage of public space covered in silt, sludge and debris. “Along with that, we lost our zoo, horticulture and maintenance” facilities, he added. The water had not even fully receded before Burckhard was meeting with FEMA officials and getting some engineering firms on hand for consultation.

“They started drawing up plans” while “we set up a priority list,” he explained, with the maintenance shop at the top. Without tools and equipment or a place to keep and maintain these in, any recovery efforts would be hamstrung.

“Park staff played a role as well” in compiling the list, Burckhard explained, being familiar with pre-flood facilities and able to best identify needs. Many had spent long hours scrambling to move equipment and materials to safety, or in the case of the zoo, save its animals. “We had all our park staff working the first two days,” moving things out of water’s lapping reach. “Which was huge,” he added, cutting down replacement costs later on.

The list was still a long one. “We tried grouping them as best we could,” he said, lumping together targeted projects by importance and location. Among the first of these was district-wide debris removal. “That’s just not a small task,” with a wide area strewn in garbage, detritus, uprooted vegetation and thick silty residue.

Delayed by the onset of winter, the maintenance and forestry shop was not completed until May 2012. After that, work could begin with gusto on a wider scale. From putting up the fences around the zoo to hauling tons of debris, or sanitizing and refurbishing affected facilities, Burckhard recognizes that the recovery was a community achievement.

“The entire park district deserves a lot of credit for where we’re at right now,” he said, but that also “too many volunteers to mention deserve a very large ‘thank you.’ I can’t remember all the jobs they’ve done for us,” from the bands of residents that showed up on weekends with gloves and implements, to the bin bags brimming with garbage the department would sometimes find at the parks, already readied for collection and disposal as if by magic.

“We are working with several different engineering companies that have been of great assistance to us as well,” he added. “It was a definite team effort with our flood recovery.”

A big part of Burckhard’s job was in liasing between the work and financial aspects of the recovery, figuring costs and securing funding. “FEMA helped to a certain extent,” he said, as did bond sales and insurance monies for nine of the larger buildings. In all, estimated damage done to the park district ran around $11.5 million. “It takes a lot of organizing,” making sure the numbers all matched up with the work, which in turn had to meet particular guidelines to qualify for funding.

The flood came as Minot Park Board was preparing for its centennial celebration, with the new park being prepared by the bark park and Jack Hoeven Baseball Complex. “Of course, the flood did change a number of things” as far as the specific plans went for that park and other projects. “Overall, it set us back a year or two,” he said, but “we’re looking at new projects now, too.

“We’re getting back on the right track.”

Work is very nearly at its end, with some odds and ends still remaining from the original project list. “It feels good to get them completed,” he said. “Everything we have on that list” adds to “quality of life that the community can enjoy. That’s what we built it for in the first place. That’s what we need for the community.”

One of the more satisfying restorations for him had been Oak Park. “As far as a park goes, that was the best thing to have done,” Burckhard related. It was also one of the first to be completed, coming as a bit of a morale boost for the department.

Burckhard has been kept flood-centered even in his off time, as well. While his own house was fortunate enough to experience only basement seepage, four family members’ houses were flooded. Many a weekend since has been spent lending a hand with demolition and repair work.

“Part of why I’m doing this, too,” he explained is because of his background in carpentry and building. Before his 15 years with Minot Parks, Burckhard spent about as much time working construction. Work is what brought him to Minot in the first place, coming in 1984 from his native Towner.

“I call Minot my home now.”

As the recovery effort winds down, the district is considering the establishment of a more permanent director of operations position, which would cover tasks similar to what Burckhard is doing now. “Always looking at ways to try and improve things,” he said his focus and that of the park district is to “make things hopefully better than what they are.”

“It gets better every day,” he added, saying “I’m going to have big smiles when we’re done with the flood work.”

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to