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Published March 28, 2009, 12:03 AM

Dike confuses Moorhead neighborhood

An earthen dike being built Friday morning on the north side of a drainage ditch in south Moorhead had 70-year-old Erlys Barnett worried.

By: Kevin Schnepf, INFORUM

An earthen dike being built Friday morning on the north side of a drainage ditch in south Moorhead had 70-year-old Erlys Barnett worried.

“We are all kind of wondering what’s going on here,” Barnett said, referring to many of her neighbors who live in the Timbercreek Townhomes that sit in the area where residents were strongly urged to evacuate Thursday night.

Just after 7 p.m. Thursday, Barnett and her

70-year-old husband, Dick, received a city of Moorhead Code Red message on their cell phone directing all residents living between Interstate 94 and 50th Avenue South and west of Eighth Street to evacuate.

“I started packing right away,” Erlys Barnett said. “But I panic easily. My husband doesn’t.”

Because Minnesota law does not allow for mandatory evacuations, the Barnetts – like several other residents in the area – stayed in their home.

Faced with a record Red River crest projection, Moorhead city officials wanted to err on the side of caution Thursday by urging residents to leave what is seen as a potentially vulnerable area.

Barnett was planning to leave her twinhome Friday and stay with her sister in nearby Glyndon, Minn. Dick Barnett planned to remain in their home.

“Not knowing what’s going to happen, that’s the scary part,” Erlys Barnett said. “That’s what I can’t handle, so I’m leaving to be with my sister.”

That uncertainty grew Friday morning when the Moorhead started building an earthen dike on the north side of a drainage ditch that runs west from Highway 75 to the Red River.

The Barnetts and other neighbors live on the south side of the drainage ditch, which is nearly full with water from overland flooding east of Moorhead. Residents fear the earthen dike will force water south into their neighborhood.

Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said the earthen dike is meant to protect the north side because it sits at a lower elevation than the south side.

“The river would back up through that ditch into that neighborhood,” Zimmerman said. “This will stop it from spilling into that neighborhood.”

The Barnetts were told their twinhome at 602 43rd Ave. S. – which sits about five blocks east of the Red River – should be safe even at a river crest of 44 feet.

So the Barnetts and their neighbors anxiously wait to see how high the water in the drainage ditch will rise.

“We’re good in comparison to other parts of town,” Erlys Barnett said. “So I hate to even complain. It’s just that fear of the unknown. It’s a great fear.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com