Counties, townships near Devils Lake have to shore up, move, and sometimes abandon roads overwhelmed by floodwatersHAYBALE HEIGHTS — Traveling down the township road past a new fishing resort on Devils Lake just south of U.S. Highway 2, it’s tempting to imagine that Haybale Heights was named for the large round hay bales that line west side of the route.
By: Kevin Bonham , The Dickinson Press
HAYBALE HEIGHTS — Traveling down the township road past a new fishing resort on Devils Lake just south of U.S. Highway 2, it’s tempting to imagine that Haybale Heights was named for the large round hay bales that line west side of the route.
After all, no other bales are within sight. But Kevin Frith quickly sets the record straight.
“No. The bales were just put along the road as riprap, to keep the rising lake from eating away at the road. And there’s still erosion,” said the South Minnewaukan Township board chairman.
The name comes from Haybale Bay, according to Township Supervisor Tom Mertens, a partner in the new resort development that has grown to 141 lots in just two summers.
“It actually was pasture ground when water started coming into the bay, around 1999 or 2000,” Mertens said. “One fall, a guy went to put up his hay, but he didn’t get it off. Then, in the spring, they were all in the water, close to 100 of them. Fishermen fished around them for years, before they disintegrated.”
These days, roads are disintegrating, not only from the flooding Lake, which has risen by more than 30 feet and quadrupled in size since 1993, but from overland flooding, as sloughs fill up and overflow. It’s affecting counties and townships throughout the 3,600-square-mile basin.
But an access road to Haybale Heights won’t be one of the victims, at least not directly.
The township will build a new road this year on higher ground a few hundred feet to the east.
It’s possible because Ramsey County last week reversed a decision made earlier that week that had prohibited the abandonment of roads built along section lines. The county decided instead to review each case individually.
“We’ve had lot of discussion on our road system. Most of it is absolutely a mess,” Ramsey County Commission Chairman Joe Belford said. “We don’t have the matching money to do all the county roads in the system, and the townships don’t have money for roads, for matching state or federal dollars.”
For example, Ramsey County currently is raising County 2 in two separate locations east of the city of Devils Lake that went under water this spring. Because it’s a federal access highway, the federal government is providing about $470,000 for the two grade raises, which will bring them 2 feet above the water level.
“It’s called an emergency raise, just to get traffic flowing again,” said Ramsey County Road Superintendent Kevin Fieldsend.
The county’s decision allows South Minnewaukan Township to abandon one section line road — a portion of 46th Street Northeast, east of the city and north of Highway 2 — and use a portion of the more than $837,000 obtained through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build a new 1.5-mile road on higher ground at Haybale Bay and a three-quarter-mile section of 42nd Street Northeast, just off of the Woods-Rutten Road.
It’s been a two-year struggle, Frith said, as local and federal governments reviewed rules and negotiated to find some common ground. The new policy allows townships to abandon flooded roads and build on higher ground, but only after the new road is open.
The FEMA policy allows new roads on higher ground in cases where the original road borders Devils Lake, or if they provide the only access to occupied residences.
“We’re more fortunate than a lot of townships,” Frith said. “Many of them don’t have any money left to deal with roads. Some only have two or three miles left of their whole road system. How devastating would it be to be able to see your farm, your home, but you can’t get to it. That’s what a lot of them are living with.”
Because South Minnewaukan Township borders the growing lake, it has fewer roads to maintain. It also straddles both sides of U.S. Highway 2, so it benefits from new businesses building along the highway to cash in on the growing fishing industry and road construction trade.
Mertens said business at Haybale Heights is far better than he expected when they started building the resort in the fall of 2009. He had 107 campsites last year and added another 34 this year. All but seven are leased for the year.
Then again, the investment is more than he figured, too. This year, he and his brother spent about $50,000 to install a new boat landing.
“You have to invest money to make money, and I couldn’t have imagined it’d gone this fast,” he said of the new resort. Still, he added, “The water’s a misery.”
Frith said the Mertens have the right idea.
“You can’t just sit back and wait for the government to make things right,” he said. “A lot of that happened after (Hurricane) Katrina. You have to help yourself out as much as you can, and if FEMA can help out, well that’s just great.”
Bonham is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.