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Published April 09, 2009, 12:00 AM

McFeely: Spirits remain high in Oakport

Paul Young’s basement is ruined, victimized by 6 feet of water that poured in when Red River floodwaters inundated Oakport Township in Minnesota. That includes the bedroom of his 12-year-old daughter, who adores horses.

By: Mike McFeely, INFORUM

Paul Young’s basement is ruined, victimized by 6 feet of water that poured in when Red River floodwaters inundated Oakport Township in Minnesota. That includes the bedroom of his 12-year-old daughter, who adores horses.

“I’ve already thrown out her closet doors, which were painted like doors on a red barn. You can see the wall is decorated to look like a split-rail fence,” Young said Wednesday morning. “She just loves horses, and now it’s all just a mess.”

Young’s modest rambler along Second Street, a few blocks north of Wall Street, is one of about 50 homes in hard-hit Oakport to suffer major flood damage. It came despite a 4-foot sandbag dike built around the home – and the assurance of the previous owner that the 1997 flood didn’t cause serious problems.

“I’m not so sure about that now,” Young said.

But if you’re looking for bitterness or despair, Young is not the person to visit. The Fargo firefighter says he has seen calamity firsthand, and losing a basement to water does not qualify.

“As long as everybody is safe – and everybody in my family is – you have to look at this as a bump in the road. Yes, it sucks, but you have to fix the bump and move on,” Young said. “I’m a firefighter, so I’ve seen tragedy happen to families. Maybe that gives me a different perspective. We’ll move on from this.

“The cool thing is, we’ve shown the rest of the country how it’s supposed to be done,” he said. “We’ve shown what we can accomplish working together with our friends and neighbors. People here weren’t robbing each other or raping people. We were trying to help each other. That’s cool.”

That spirit seemed to resonate throughout the beautiful, wooded acres of Oakport in talking with a handful of people Wednesday. There’s already been a tremendous amount of damage, the water is coming again and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided against building a temporary earthen dike to protect the area from water backing up in Oakport coulee, which is actually the Red’s ancient bed.

Yet the folks north of Moorhead are hanging tough.

“It’s only going to hit 38 to 40 feet this time. That’s no problem,” Greg Holland joked, referring to the National Weather Service’s latest crest prediction. “Man, what does that tell you? You’re breathing a sigh of relief because it’s ‘only’ going to be that high.”

Randy Farwell, Holland’s neighbor in the Country Heritage addition, agreed.

“Thirty-eight to forty? No sweat,” he said.

Oakport has a different fight than Fargo or Moorhead because there is no single line of defense against the Red. While the larger cities are building miles of sandbag and earthen dikes as protection, homeowners in Oakport are pretty much on their own. Seemingly every house has a ring of sandbags surrounding it.

“What I’ve taken away from this is how neighbors came together and worked together,” Holland said. “We had a tight neighborhood anyway. Now I think we’ve become even tighter.”

There is frustration. Like Fargo-Moorhead and points south, Oakport residents feel there’s been too much government foot-dragging when it comes to funding permanent protection. Oakport has a plan; it just needs the money. The feeling is that the cash will come fairly quickly once the Red recedes.

In the meantime, Oakport awaits the second crest knowing there is nothing to hold it off except for individual handiwork. The folks there will continue the fight.

“I’m so fortunate to be part of this community. We’ve stayed together and fought this together,” township board Chairman Greg Anderson said. “This is truly America.”

Inforum searchword: Mike McFeely

Forum columnist Mike McFeely can be heard from 1-2 p.m. Monday through Friday on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com.

McFeely’s blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/mcfeely

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