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Southwest ND Bible camp worried about flooding

MEDORA (AP) -- It took a flood of money to build the camp along a scenic embrace of the Little Missouri River south of here.

Now there's fear that a real flood will wipe out land and infrastructure at Badlands Ministries, a Lutheran-based outreach that has invested nearly $4 million in the dream of summering children in faith and wintering retreat-bound groups in all denominations.

Last year's flood caused the river to change course and threaten the camp.

Instead of running alongside the camp in a lengthy, leisurely oxbow, the river now takes a swift turn right toward it.

Landowners on both sides believe the raging river tore open a trench for the Southwest Water Pipeline, which was found scattered in pieces when the water receded. The pipeline has since been bored under the river, which locals said should have been done the first time around.

Ministries board president Nathan Sorenson said he'd hoped for some state action by now. Snow accumulation is not at last year's levels, not yet anyway. The exposure is there regardless.

"Where we're at is a point I didn't want to be at going into another flood season," Sorenson said. 'There's been no action."

The camp board wants the pipeline authority -- which manages the pipeline -- and the State Water Commission --the pipeline owner -- to construct protection or stabilization so the river doesn't eat into the camp every time there's high water.

The river could possibly take out the septic drain field, the river bottom where the camp has horse and recreation property, or even breach the road, which dikes off the camp buildings, he said. High water came within a few inches of topping the road last spring.

"There's a huge risk," Sorenson said. "We're very nervous about what could happen this spring, but everybody's looking at everybody else."

Board member Mike Oehler said the septic drain field -- basically an underground lagoon -- is a critical piece of the camp's infrastructure. It alone cost about $500,000.

"If this changes, it's huge," Oehler said. "If we lose the drain field, we'd be in a complete redesign."

Tim Freije, who manages water development for the State Water Commission, said what happened at the camp "is kind of a difficult situation. There's a clear-cut situation, but no clear-cut answer."

Freije said the question of liability has not been answered, either.

"No one's said, 'It's our responsibility,' " he said.

So far, there is no construction, or bank stabilization plan, though Freije is planning to assemble more information and get a plan together by spring.

Whether it's approved or funded is a decision that will be made higher up than his office, he said.

Loren Myran, chairman of the Southwest Water Authority, confirmed that the possibility of some kind of bank stabilization is being studied.

"I know they're (water commission) working on it," he said. "Nothing's happened, but that doesn't mean nothing's being planned. The process is not as fast as they would like."

Freije said that while aerial photographs indicate some bank erosion has occurred along the Badlands Ministries' property, he thinks the main flow of water will go downstream rather than cut into the camp property.

A fix would possibly involve dredging, "So (the river) is not directed right at the bank," or riprap, Freije said.

A project to put the river back into the original channel -- if it could even be accomplished -- would cost at least $500,000, Freije estimates. Some sort of stabilization "would be quite a bit less," he said.

Sorenson said Badlands Ministries doesn't have that kind of money.

"We have a very tight budget. Our ... revenue buys food for kids and pays for counselors," Sorenson said. "We don't have a half-million to put out for bank stabilization."