- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

VALLEY CITY, N.D. (AP) - Valley City officials are trying to hold down traffic in the city while they fix a broken sewer system and wait for the Sheyenne River to retreat.

Mayor Mary Lee Nielson is telling businesses to stay closed for at least this week, unless they are absolutely needed. With the city’s bridges closed, emergency vehicles have to have a way to get around to places that need them, she said.

Nielson asked people Friday to leave the city of about 7,000 after the river overwhelmed the sewer system. The North Dakota National Guard said late Sunday 423 homes in Valley City had been evacuated.

But Nielson said Monday she was seeing more traffic and that was not a good sign.

“Obviously, I’m worried about that,” she said. People may not understand the consequences of putting more pressure on the city’s fragile roads, bridges and services, she said.

The Army Corps of Engineers said it cut water releases from the Baldhill Dam north of the city, sending less water to Valley City and other southeastern North Dakota communities that are battling flooding along the Sheyenne River. A small rural wildlife refuge dam failed, sending more water into the Sheyenne, but officials said the flows had not significantly increased.

Corps spokesman Mark Davidson said hydrologists believe the Sheyenne has crested in cities above the dam. The corps cut the dam releases from 6,500 cubic feet per second last week to 5,500 cfs Sunday night, putting less pressure on such communities as Valley City and Lisbon downstream, he said.

In LaMoure County, the National Guard used more than 100 1-ton sandbags to try to slow erosion of an emergency spillway to reinforce a dam along Cottonwood Creek. Authorities said it is about 20 miles from the nearest community and the greatest threat is to towns and roads.

LaMoure County Emergency Manager Sheri Gartner said Monday the erosion seemed to have slowed. “We just have to wait until the water goes down,” she said.

Barnes County officials said a rural dam known as the Tomahawk Dam, in a wildlife refuge northeast of Valley City, washed out but no homes were affected. Sheriff Gene Bjerke said the main impact was to wash out roads and send more water into the river.

He estimated it would send up to 500 cfs into the Sheyenne, but said that likely will not cause problems for Valley City. “It doesn’t appear that the flow has increased a lot,” Bjerke said.

Nielson said her city no longer is dumping its sewage into the river. The sewage is being pumped into a lagoon, but the sewer system is still not usable, she said.

“We’ll be using portable potties, probably for another month,” the mayor said.

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