Searching for an answer

Rice Lake residents still are looking for a solution to the rising water threatening their homes and cabins.

Residents had pinned their hopes on a proposed pipeline to drain the lake. A district judge ruling in June stopped the project by ruling that the association doesn’t have authority to use eminent domain for a flood control project, particularly one requiring easements more than 11 miles away from the recreation district boundaries.

The Ward County Water Resource Board since has met with representatives of the Rice Lake Recreational Service District and plans to schedule another meeting with the district association and Ward County Commission representatives to discuss future action.

Jarid Lundeen, chairman of the Rice Lake board, told the county commission Tuesday that there is a desire to have a roundtable discussion on potential solutions.

“The situation is dire and can’t wait,” he said. “Residents need some kind of answers (about) where things are going to go.”

Rice Lake has been beleaguered by rising water for the past few years, to the extent that several homes and cabins have been lost. Road raises and sewer and water protection measures have been implemented. A pumping project that sends water from Rice Lake to a depression above the lake has lowered the level of water in the lake, but not permanently. The pumped water is believed to percolate into the Douglas Aquifer and back into Rice Lake.

Commissioners John Fjeldahl and Shelly Weppler will represent the commission at a Rice Lake meeting to be arranged within the next 10 days.

The commission also set a meeting for Aug. 5 with a standing citizens committee to discuss building construction.

Fjeldahl sought to reconsider a motion that had authorized a jail expansion design costing up to $15 million, citing legal concerns related to how the county would bond for the project. His reconsideration motion died when it failed to receive a second. However, the state’s attorney has been asked to provide information at a future meeting, and commissioners noted that input from the citizens committee and the state’s attorney could influence how the commission ultimately proceeds with the jail project.

In other business, the commission declared an emergency related to heavy rainfall and infrastructure damage from June 28 to 30. Emergency manager Amanda Schooling said a previous declaration for early June that covered rain-related damage in the Kenmare area didn’t qualify for federal aid based on the dollar amount of federally-determined eligible damages. Damages that occurred through a wider part of the county are expected to be higher from the rain in late June.

The commission accepted construction bids on road raises and repairs in the southwestern end of the county, where water hasn’t receded since inundating roads a few years ago. A section of Ward County Road 14, east of Ward County Road 9 about 10 miles south of Berthold, is being raised six to nine feet after previously having been raised up to three feet.

Commissioners also continue to deal with the 2011 flood recovery. After hearing from a rural resident still struggling financially to rebuild her flood home, commissioner Shelly Weppler suggested the county consider using unspent Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery dollars to assist individuals in a fashion similar to programs included in the City of Minot’s CDBG spending. Minot has a reimbursement program for residents who made repairs and has a home rehabilitation and reconstruction program for low- to moderate-income residents who have been unable to rebuild on their own.

It’s unknown how much money will be left over once ongoing CDBG projects in the county are completed. After a heated discussion over whether to finalize CDBG funds for a low- to moderate-income housing project in Burlington, commissioners voted 2-2, resulting in a decision being tabled.

Fjeldahl and Weppler questioned what appeared to be rising costs and were reluctant to give automatic approval. However, Schooling and county engineer Dana Larsen pointed out that the county already has approved the construction contract and would not be able to alter it. Staff were asked to provide more information related to the contract and funding at a future meeting.

The commission had set aside more than $4.7 million to use toward the Burlington project. It last month added another $1.6 million to cover increased land preparation costs. Other CDBG funds have been earmarked to disaster recovery projects in Sawyer and Makoti and for home acquisitions.

The county received $9.4 million in an initial CDBG grant for flood recovery in 2012 and an additional $5.2 million in a second award in 2013.