Rain brings more road troubles in county

A persistent wet cycle has Ward County and some townships battling once again to keep roads above water.

Ward County engineer Dana Larsen told the county commission Tuesday that even while working on repairs from past years’ damages, his department is trying to save other endangered roads, particularly in the southwestern part of the county.

“This is a continuing disaster that started in 2010 and continues to move forward,” Larsen said.

The prairie pothole region from Minot to Makoti is experiencing excess ground moisture that is causing water to creep toward and sometimes inundate an increasing number of roads. Larsen said his department has been stockpiling riprap. The cost of riprapping and availability of equipment to prevent erosion is a concern, though. The cost of riprapping both sides of 1,000 feet of roadway is about $100,000, he estimated.

Northern McLean County shares part of the prairie pothole region and the water troubles that go with it.

McLean County Auditor Les Korgel, Washburn, said seven county roads have been under water since 2009. Twenty to 25 unorganized township roads are affected. He said the county just leased more equipment to fix roads that were raised last year but washed out again this spring.

“One of our problems is there’s so much water there that there’s no place for that water to go underground. So it’s not disappearing,” Korgel said. “About the time we get a little bit of freeboard on the roads, we get a big rain.”

McLean residents are finding alternative routes to washed-out roads, but that extra traffic is taking a physical toll on available roads.

Although the cost of riprap is high, Ward County commissioner John Fjeldahl said failure to protect the county’s water-threatened roads costs townships, whose roads are forced to handle the diverted traffic.

Townships have water problems of their own. Emergency manager Amanda Schooling said she has heard from Surrey Township, where a road providing sole access to a rural resident has washed out.

“That’s just one call. It’s going to get worse the more rain we get,” she said.

Surrey Township chairman Mark Vollmer, who was not at the meeting, said Tuesday afternoon that the washout occurred recently at the site of a culvert and the cause had not yet been investigated.

The county commission decided to re-extend its March emergency declaration for a couple more weeks, allowing the county to use its emergency funds and supply sandbags. However, the declaration covers spring runoff and not the recent rains, so the commission plans to monitor the situation in event a second declaration is needed.

Schooling said there is no Federal Emergency Management Agency funding available on new damages until those damages exceed $230,000. Any additional damage to roads previously damaged and not yet repaired aren’t eligible for additional FEMA funding. Even if the county has enough damages to declare an emergency, Schooling said, “Getting a federally funded disaster is not going to be easy.”

Schooling will continue to track any new water damages across the county that could qualify toward the FEMA funding threshold.

In other business, the commission agreed to have an appointed task force work with the tax equalization director to review property assessments of homes at Rice Lake. The Rice Lake Recreational District Board is opposing assessment increases, which some non-flooded properties received, and has asked for a review to occur before the County Board of Equalization meets on June 3.

The commission received an update on remodeling of the basement of the Courthouse for a juvenile detention facility. The project is being scaled back by 30 percent to cut costs. A preliminary estimate to remodel space for seven detention cells came in last month at $1.78 million, or nearly $1 million more than commissioners had expected. An estimate will be sought on the new plan, which calls for five detention cells.

The cost of outside security cameras on the existing jail also came in higher than commissioners expected. The county wants to add cameras to address vandalism.

Capt. Robert Barnard of the Ward County Sheriff’s Office said the department thought $10,000 would be more than adequate to pay for a camera system, but the only bid received was for $27,070. Other companies declined to bid because they do not do the type of installation required. The installation requiers lift equipment to install enclosures to contain wiring on the outside of the jail. The installation cost was about $4,700 of the total bid.

A motion to accept the bid died on a 2-2 tie vote. Instead, the commission will look into a change-order in construction on the county office building to see if the cameras can be added to that project work at a lower cost.

In other action, the commission rejected a request of a resident for permission to officiate at a family wedding ceremony. The commission’s action was based on a legal opinion from State’s Attorney Rozanna Larson that stated commissioners have no authority under North Dakota law to designate a non-county official to perform weddings.