- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) - For Jeff Dooley and Al Leber, the 2011 Missouri River flood represented a five-month, round-the-clock battle threatening the Dakota Dunes community, school district and surrounding area.

“Half the community evacuated, and the other half stayed here,” said Dooley, manager of the Community Improvement District. “The business community kept its operations going to serve those remaining residents, so we needed to maintain the water and sewer systems.”

“If I remember right, we had around 1,600 people who had to leave their homes,” added Leber, superintendent of the Dakota Valley school district.

The flood arose from large Rocky Mountains snowpack combined with record Great Plains rainfall. As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a record 160,000 cubic feet per second - or 1 million gallons of water for each tick of the clock - from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton. The raging waters, more than double the previous record, continued from May to September.

As CID manager, Dooley oversees infrastructure. Dakota Dunes, in the southeast tip of South Dakota, was formed in 1990 and has become well known for its number of multimillion dollar homes.

Leber serves as superintendent of the Dakota Valley school district, which came into existence July 1, 1994. He is retiring June 30 after 47 years in education, the last 17 years at the helm of Dakota Valley.

Dooley still finds it hard to believe the massive force of water that continued for months and threatened the Dunes and surrounding areas such as Wynstone, McCook Lake and North Sioux City.

“This started around Memorial Day and went well into October,” he told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan (http://bit.ly/28Xz6oS). “Once the water receded, around the beginning of September, we removed the levees and people got back to their homes. But there was still a lot of work left out there.”

Dakota Dunes and neighboring sites literally took on the dimension of a battleground. Gov. Dennis Daugaard visited the region immediately and numerous other times, and Lt. Gov. Matt Michels remained on scene to direct flood relief operations for the southeast region of the state.

Federal, state and local officials worked with operations. In addition, South Dakota National Guard units worked non-stop filling sandbags, and creating and monitoring levees. Other officials worked alongside them, including helicopters providing airlifts for levees and other needs.

And local residents, along with volunteers, worked tirelessly to take whatever measures would save their lives and property.

Once the floodwaters arrived, life changed 24/7 for residents, businesses and those who came to their rescue. The effort brought together local, state, federal and private entities. A central command was set up in a local bank’s meeting area.

An Incident Management Team held morning briefings seven days a week. The briefings included weather forecasts, river conditions, the construction and maintenance of levees, and relief efforts for those displaced or threatened by the flood. The meetings also addressed safety issues, from heat exhaustion to whether levees were too slippery to navigate.

“The National Guard was always very vigilant and tracking storm systems. They also constantly monitored the levees for any breaches,” Dooley said. “It was a dangerous situation. Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the levee construction or maintenance.”

Meanwhile, the school district became a focal point for support operations, Leber said.

“The school wasn’t impacted by the flood as far as water was concerned, but we were the center of a lot of sandbagging that was placed in our parking lot. The Red Cross used our kitchen and common areas to feed all of the National Guard members and the smoke jumpers (who had worked with fire operations),” he said.

“We opened up our gymnasium and locker rooms for the National Guard and smoke jumpers. The smoke jumpers actually stayed in our wrestling room. The mats were down and the room was air conditioned.”

The governor used the school auditorium for press conferences to provide updates on the flood operations. The school became a place for relief workers to find something to eat and drink and to take a shower.

“It was a hubbub of activity,” Leber said.

Evacuated residents were forced to find housing elsewhere, Leber said. Those options ranged from staying with family and friends, renting motel rooms, living at the YMCA, moving into campers or finding new homes in Sioux City or other neighboring areas.

“We had people who were renting big semi-trailers to put all of their household items and other belongings,” he said. “We also had boats, motorcycles and sorts of other things where people had no place to put them. We used the high school parking lot for sandbagging, and the elementary parking lot was full of semi-trailers with people’s belongings.”

Leber also witnessed the cooperation of normally competing businesses.

“We had local contractors, homebuilders and construction people who brought their equipment, big trucks and bulldozers,” he said. “They were working 24 hours a days and sacrificing for the community.”

Once the flood receded, the levees were removed and the evacuation was lifted. However, many homeowners faced massive cleanup or the possibility of rebuilding their homes. But nearly all families returned and resolved to keep Dakota Dunes and surroundings as their home.

Dakota Valley patrons passed a $27 million bond issue - with 85 percent approval - to build a new high school now near completion. The Dakota Dunes CID has also made major strides in response to the flood. The elevation has been raised and attention given to shoreline. In addition, the storm sewer automatically closes and doesn’t back up.

People’s lives were changed forever as they developed a stronger bond, Leber said.

“It solidified the community in the aspect that people were sandbagging next to each other,” he said. “They would spend three or four hours at a time filling and hauling sandbags, and they were talking to people they maybe never talked to before and began building new friendships.

“And in that respect, good really came out of the bad.”

___

Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, http://www.yankton.net/

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide