The flood of 2011 has created a new focus for Habitat for Humanity Northern Lights. On the schedule of the Minot-based chapter beginning this fall is the construction of two houses to replace homes lost to the flood.
Helping in the chapter's efforts is a $7,145 donation from a court settlement between the Canadian Pacific Railway and residents affected by the Jan. 18, 2002, train derailment and anhydrous ammonia spill. The settlement stated that unclaimed funds be donated to a charitable entity selected by the Minneapolis law firm of Zimmerman Reed, which represented the plaintiffs.
"It was such a blessing for us," said Larry Zirtzman, chapter director. "We really needed it to keep going. Our donations have been way down."
A lot on Second Avenue Northwest where a flood-damaged house was removed will be the site of a new house constructed by the owner with the help of Habitat for Humanity Northern Lights.
Both donations and volunteer numbers suffered in the aftermath of the flood. The flood tied up volunteers who were repairing their own homes or those of family and friends.
Northern Lights had completed building its ninth house in May 2011, just before the flood came.
"The flood disrupted everything. All the planning we had done went out the window with the flood. Going into this year, we don't have a build plan because we had spent a lot of our funds helping people with flood recovery work. It just seemed, with all the people living in FEMA trailers, that we should use our resources to help those people get back into their homes," Zirtzman said.
Habitat for Humanity has been working with the Souris Valley Long Term Recovery Committee. The chapter steered its volunteers to gutting and cleaning homes.
"Habitat for Humanity isn't exactly a disaster response organization, but with a disaster of this magnitude, we had to step in and do whatever we could," Zirtzman said.
A year after the flood, the organization has reclaimed its labor numbers with help from volunteers from Minot Air Force Base. It is ready to move ahead with another build. But its next projects will be different from anything the chapter has ever done in the past.
Northern Lights has connected with two families whose houses were so severely damaged by the flood that they had to be demolished. The families have construction capital to rebuild but not enough to hire contractors. Using available personal resources and help from Recovery Warehouse, the families will be supplying building materials and some contractor services while Northern Lights provides the volunteer labor. The overall cost savings is significant.
"We can do it for about a third of what their estimates were," Zirtzman said. "We are pretty excited about getting started on these houses."
Contractors were to start dirt work this week at 517-2nd Ave. NW, where a new home will be going up on one of the flooded properties. Construction on the other home, near Corbett Field in southeast Minot, is awaiting a building permit to get started.
If the builds go as well as expected, Northern Lights would be open to more partnerships with homeowners, Zirtzman said.
Habitat for Humanity's role in the flood recovery differs from most volunteer groups in that the organization is building new homes rather than repairing existing flood-damaged homes.
Of the nine homes built by Habitat for Humanity over the years, two were damaged in the flood. One homeowner relocated to a neighboring community, and the city is buying out the property. The other house would have come through the flood structurally sound had not the river current drove a piece of timber into the foundation, destroying it. The homeowner turned the house back to Habitat for Humanity, and demolition is planned.
Zirtzman said Northern Lights will have the lot available for future construction once the damaged house is removed. The chapter also owns a lot in northeast Minot, next to a house that it previously built.
People interested in the work of Northern Lights or who would like to volunteer can find out more on its website at (www.minothabitat.org) or by calling 852-9799.