A disappointing decision had Ward County officials vowing to continue the fight for much-needed road repairs during Tuesday's regularly scheduled meeting of the Ward County Commission.
County engineer Dana Larsen told the commission the Federal Emergency Management Agency had rendered a decision on repairs to Ward County Roads 11 and 5 and three Rushville Township roads, and it was tough to swallow.
"FEMA, basically ... didn't deny the projects, they just gave us 6 inches of pit run and 3 inches of gravel," Larsen said. "But that doesn't fix a road that's under 5 feet of water."
Larsen said they will appeal the decision, and could really use the support of Gov. Jack Dalrymple and other state agencies.
In the reports, Larsen said FEMA noted there are alternate routes to take around the submerged roads, and they also serve few individuals and agricultural purposes. The availability of alternate routes and few people travelling those roads were the main reasons FEMA offered only minimal support, Larsen said, despite the fact sections of those roads are only passable to boats and amphibious vehicles.
Larsen said FEMA's count was an average of eight vehicles a day, and he wondered aloud whether FEMA took that vehicle count next to a "road closed" sign.
"They also quoted that many of these roads only had maybe eight vehicles a day on them. Well, in our appeal we're going to state a good reason there's only eight vehicles a day is because it's closed," Larsen said. "I mean there should be no vehicles on there when it's closed."
Larsen pointed out the decision came from FEMA itself, not any state agency.
"It is coming directly down from the high end of FEMA," Larsen said. "So we will have to appeal that."
Larsen said the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services was shocked when he informed it of FEMA's decision. Larsen noted NDDES had highly recommended those improvements and felt they had met all the criteria.
Commissioner Bruce Christianson said allowing 6 inches of pit run and 3 inches of gravel for roads that have 48 to 60 inches of water on them was puzzling, to say the least.
Larsen was able to put what was given versus what was needed into a monetary context.
"They gave us about $5,000 to repair, and most of them take about a half a million dollars to repair," Larsen said.
As if the situation weren't difficult enough, Larsen said if the county were to do even one speck of work on those roads, it would surely disqualify them from any federal funding at all.
"It's so darn frustrating. Those folks that use those roads, everybody in the county, actually, wonder why we can't get anything done," Christianson said. "It just pulls some of your hair out."
When commissioner Carroll Erickson asked if any FEMA officials actually realize just how submerged those roads really are, Larsen said a local FEMA official has been on site and has seen the condition the roads are in.
"Personally, I think it's money. They've only got so much money and they're being very, very tight with it," Larsen said. "It's very unfortuante for us and it's very, very frustrating for us."
In other business, the commission passed a variance from the county building moratorium for Jerry Taft of Country Club Acres. Taft's home was flooded, and he plans to put a modular home on an adjacent lot to the north of his current home. While the flooded home is within the buyout area, the adjacent lot is not.
In an earlier public hearing, the Ward County Planning Commission had recommended to give Taft the variance. There was much discussion at the planning commission meeting as to what elevation Taft would have to build his home at, and it was decided to use the same elevation as the old 100-year flood plain.
The motion passed unanimously.
"I think it's time, and I stated in our last meeting that it's time to make some changes to that moratorium, and this is a good way to get started, I think," said commissioner Jerome Gruenberg. "There's going to be a lot more of these, and we're going to have to let these people move forward."