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Beltrami County prepares for spring floods

Warm weather and melting snow means spring is near -- and also spring flooding.

Beltrami County has been making preparations for any local spring flooding since last month, when more than two dozen law enforcement and emergency agencies met to share notes.

"We had a productive two-hour talk, and each was asked what they bring to the table," Sgt. Beryl Wernberg, Beltrami County Emergency Management director, told county commissioners Tuesday.

"It's all about partnerships and being proactive," she said during the board's afternoon work session.

She was with Bruce Hasbargen, Beltrami County highway engineer, whose job it is to keep county roads open during flooding.

"We're taking sandbags out of storage," Wernberg said.

A town hall meeting is planned for March 24 at Evangelical Covenant Church with a variety of vendors, she said. "They'll tell how to pump out your basement or your yard, how to sandbag, how to fix mold in the basement, mental health people and flood insurance representatives."

Sandbags will be available at 25 cents each, she said, adding that sand to fill the first 100 bags is free.

Wernberg said she recently met the federal Regional 5 director of the Federal Emergency Management Administrationsds, and that the agency is under reform to respond better.

Meanwhile Tuesday, members of the Minnesota Congressional Delegation urged FEMA to plan, prepare and coordinate flood protection efforts in advance of the spring flooding.

The delegation pushed FEMA to take immediate steps to facilitate a timely response to any damage once the water recedes. The National Weather Service recently forecast that regions across Minnesota face the strong possibility of major flood events and that the Red River Valley region is again facing the possibility of record floods

"As Minnesota prepares for potential for devastating flooding across much of the state this spring, we ask for your immediate assistance to plan, prepare, and coordinate flood protection efforts to facilitate FEMA's timely response to any damage once the water recedes," wrote members in the letter.

The letter highlighted the major flooding that occurred last year, which led President Barack Obama to declare 31 counties in Minnesota as disaster areas.

"Unfortunately, the National Weather Service's most recent outlook for spring shows that regions across Minnesota are again facing the strong possibility of major flood events," states the letter signed by Minnesota's eight representatives and two senators.

"Specifically, there is a 50 percent chance that the Red River of the North in Moorhead-Fargo will rise to 38.8 feet, and a 20 percent chance the River will rise to 41.9 feet, which is over one foot higher than the 2009 historical event. Further north, East Grand Forks-Grand Forks has a 50 percent chance that the Red River will rise to 50.4 feet, which is five feet higher than last year. Along the Mississippi River, the latest projects show at least a 50 percent likelihood that the water will rise significantly above last year's level in Aitkin, St. Cloud, and St. Paul," the letter said.

In the Bemidji area, Tyler Estates in Bemidji has previously seen severe flooding, and Wernberg said a backup pump is ready to be installed by the city.

Also, the area west of Bemidji along U.S. Highway 2 is in better shape than before, said Environmental Services Director Bill Patnaude. "We've been testing wells and the groundwater table is four feet lower."

Wernberg said this spring her department will join the social media, posting a Facebook page to disseminate news releases and other flood-related information instantaneously.

If necessary, a hotline number will also be provided, she said."We depend on the eyes and ears of the citizens to tell us if routes are flooded, and we can plan around them," Wernberg said. "We need to document everything with pictures."

"School bus drivers are the ones that really know the roads," Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks said.

Hasbargen reminded commissioners that 10-ton spring road restrictions go into effect Friday.