Flood-damaged roads hamper ND planting
DTN Staff Reporter
WACONIA, Minn. (DTN) – If the weather cooperates, it will be another week before Chad Johnson can get into his fields near Casselton, ND.
Conditions in his corner of Cass County are slowly getting back to normal, but roads remain an issue. “If we were to go to the field right now, we wouldn’t be able to get the equipment everywhere it needs to go,” he said.
That’s a situation growers and rural residents across the state are facing.
If you were to pinpoint on the map every county that’s had issues with flooding or extreme snow, you’d cover the entire state, said Cecily Fong, public information officer for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. “North Dakota has 53 counties, 47 are declared as having some sort of emergency.”
And many rural and township roads are severely affected by flooding, she said. “I’m going to guess every county has roads affected … in some cases, road damage is keeping producers from getting into their fields and getting to livestock.” It’s also impeding carcass removal and access to feed.
North Dakota Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring said the state is working with local county extension agents to get an idea of how many miles of roads, how many culverts and how many bridges have been knocked out.
“It’s hard to put an estimate on how many because we’re still collecting data,” he said, but “we have hundreds of roads – probably close to thousands – that are out of commission.” It varies from 20 roads in one county to 100 roads in another.
Since so much of the damage has yet to be assessed, it’s difficult to estimate how much repairs will cost, Goehring said.
At the end of the day, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover the majority of the repairs, Fong said. Currently, it’s a 75-25 split with FEMA covering 75 percent of repair costs and state and local entities covering 25 percent, she said. But given the scope of the disaster, Fong said she anticipates the split will be 90-10, with FEMA covering 90 percent of repair costs, the state covering 4 percent and local entities 6 percent.
“From our perspective, we want the roads fixed as soon as possible,” she said. “If you have damages to rural roads, document, go through the appropriate process to fix the road and worry about paying for it later. The roads need to be fixed now, and there are safety implications as well – ambulances and fire trucks need to get where they need to go.”
“When you have your rural population cut off from the rest of the world, helping them get access to necessities like groceries, vet supplies and parts is the first and foremost priority and a concern,” Goehring said. Then the issue is trying to get livestock to dry pasture, finding dry pasture and planting a crop.
“I’m sure they’ll try to get the main roads fixed first, and hopefully by the end of the year get the roads patched together so producers can get their commodities hauled off the field,” he said.
Goehring, who farms near Menoken, about 15 miles east of Bismarck, said that on his own operation there’s one quarter in particular that’ll be hard to access. “It’ll be tough, but I’ll get there, and I’m probably lucky because a lot of my land is near main roads or farm-to-market roads, but I do know producers that have roads washed out.” Some of the situations are extreme; farmers may only be five miles away from a particular field, but it will take them 20 miles to get there because there are several roads washed out between point A and point B.
Rail traffic has also been affected in some parts of the state. There are a few spurs off the main rail lines that have been washed out, Goehring said. “Some arrangements have been made with facilities along the main line to handle products from elevators that don’t have rail service.” In the Emmons County area, in the south-central part of the state, elevators are hauling grain up to the main line or down into South Dakota. “That’s creating a higher basis, which means less dollars back to the producer.”
But it’s important to keep in mind that most of the state has been in a drought for the last seven years, Goehring said. There’s been a reprieve one year in seven, and many producers, especially in the western and central parts of the state, haven’t found it in themselves to curse this weather.
They don’t like mortality rates with calving, he said, but they know they’ll grow grass and plant into moist soil — and that’s better than a drought.
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Western legislators led by Reps. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday, urging USDA to provide additional relief to farmers and ranchers impacted by historic drought.