Missions Ramp Up in Valley City as Baldhill Dam Increases Releases

  • Published
  • By SGT Amy Wieser Willson
  • NDNG Public Affairs
With releases from the Baldhill Dam expected to hit record levels this afternoon, folks throughout Valley City scrambled to reinforce levees that were high enough to withstand this week's crest. Now, they're facing a second crest that will become the city's historic record, topping the 2009 mark of 20.69 feet. By mid-afternoon today, the level reached 20.5 feet -- and the Baldhill Dam upped its flow to 7,500 cubic feet per second, exceeding its previous record level of 6,800 cfs.

Volunteers, contractors, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the North Dakota National Guard all stepped up efforts today in response.

About 160 fresh Guardsmen were added to the 120 already working in town. First to activate was the 957th Multi-Role Bridge Company out of Bismarck, N.D. About 70 Soldiers reported at 6 a.m. today, got their trucks ready and headed to Fargo, where 400,000 sandbags awaited transportation to Valley City. Capt. Daniel Claussen, the 957th company commander, said the unit can haul 200 pallets of sandbags each trip using 11 Combat Bridge Trucks with trailers.

"These Soldiers are very experienced," he said. "We have a solid NCO (noncommissioned officer) Corps that's been deployed twice and we have a lot of junior Soldiers that had to step up to the plate this past year and do two new bridge fieldings and run a company."

Right behind the 957th were 56 reinforcements from the 817th Engineer (Sapper) Company from Jamestown, N.D. They came on duty today, in-processed and by early afternoon had thrown down about 4,000 sandbags to reinforce a dike at one location and had moved on to another, where they expected to put down another 4,000. The mission will run until dark and resume at daylight, said Sgt. 1st Class Gary Varberg, noncommissioned officer in charge of the group.

"We put down 50 pallets so far, and there's about 84 sandbags per pallet. That was at the first site, and we're just starting at this one," he said at 3 p.m. today as his crew worked just off of Main Avenue, where a walk bridge to City Park was lurking beneath the floodwaters that were close to topping the Hesco dike nearby. It's the same location the crew patrolled in 2009.

"(The) 817th is probably the best company, I'd have to say, as far as the Sapper units. At least I'll say that because I've been in Jamestown 30 years," Varberg said. "We've got a very good group of guys. Morale started off good today, so hopefully it'll last all the way through."

An additional company of Soldiers, Company B of the 231st Brigade Support Battalion, reported for duty this afternoon after getting calls this morning, and they will supplement the sandbagging efforts. Contractors are helping heighten the clay dikes, and a steady stream of dumptrucks were moving through the traffic control points manned by Guardsmen throughout the city today.

All of these new Soldiers are in addition to those who have been helping in the flood fight since Monday by providing a quick response force team, traffic control points and 24/7 levee patrols.

"Our mission won't change, but the water levels are changing, so that's why we had to bring in additional support to build the dikes up to 24 feet," said Capt. Jarrod Simek, commander for Company A, 231st Brigade Support Battalion.

The vigilance provided by those patrolling levees will remain crucial throughout the coming week, as will the emergency response provided by quick response force teams.

"One of the first things I wanted to do was get to know the neighborhood through the people to find out what went on two years ago and find out the hot spots in their backyard -- if they had problems, if they didn't have problems, stuff like that," said Sgt. Joey Houle, of Company A, 231st Brigade Support Battalion, who is patrolling dikes in Valley City for the second time.

In return for his watchfulness, the neighbors are providing him with so much food that he's considering ditching his transportation and running to the Armory after his 12-hour shift.

The level of observation is the same over on Riverview Drive, where a FEMA buyout house has been engulfed by the Sheyenne and neighbors watch and wait as the water climbs as much as five feet on their dikes.

"We come by during our hourly dike patrol checking pumps, looking for any leaks or anything like that," said Sgt. Nick Kane, with Company A, 231st Brigade Support Battalion. "We're just kind of checking how everyone's doing and if there's anything we can do for them."

The patrollers have needed to report a number of issues, thankfully all minor. Yesterday, Staff Sgt. Kimberly Lohse said she needed to call in for support three or four times. Five hours into her shift today, she was glad to report she had only made one call, and it was for a leaky pump.

A new flood fighter, Spc. Donovan Dobler, was patrolling a dike with flood veteran Sgt. Clay Broadwell this afternoon near one of the many closed bridges in the "City of Bridges." Battling the rising floodwaters is in his blood, he said.

"I joined to help the people, but mostly joined for family," Dobler said. "The rest of my family's been in the Guard. They've been flood-fighting, so I figured I better join, too."