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Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid

Todd Hartley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Ah, spring, when birds fly back north for the summer, the cherry blossoms bloom in Washington, D.C., and the sandbags start piling high in Fargo.

Yes, once again North Dakota’s best-known burg is threatened by the rising waters of the Red River, which set a flooding record last year by reaching a height of 40.8 feet and currently stands at 32.5 feet, more than 14 feet above the flood stage.

This year, however, things are different. There will be no $3.5 billion in damages to the Red River region like there was during the great flood of 1997. This year the good people of Fargo are prepared.

“Thanks to our volunteers,” said Fargo spokeswoman Karena Carlson, “we’ve been able to fill a million sandbags and place 700,000 around our city.”

Those volunteers, in case you were wondering, were not just National Guard troops and emergency workers, but college students, high school students and children as young as 3, according to one story. In fact, filling sandbags has apparently become a big source of pride for local youth.

Tom Holmgren, a student at Minnesota State University in Moorhead, just across the river from Fargo, said, “I know there’s a big push in the college community that’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re doing it. We’re saving this town.'”

Thus, due to the efforts of Holmgren and thousands of willing volunteers like him, Fargo and Moorhead should be protected to a height of 40 feet this year. Floodwaters are expected to crest at a mere 38 feet, so that should give locals a whopping 2 feet to spare.

It’s a nice story, isn’t it? Young and old alike coming together in a time of need to save their city. A million sandbags stacked up in testament to a community’s fortitude and determination to withstand Mother Nature’s fury. It’s a wonderful feel-good story this year, just as it will be next year and the year after that and every year for the foreseeable future.

That’s the part where I get a little lost. I don’t want to seem unsympathetic to the plight of North Dakota’s flood victims, and I certainly don’t mean to trivialize the efforts of the people working to save Fargo, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what they’re thinking. Don’t these folks ever get tired of fighting floods each spring?

Floods are such a common occurrence in Fargo that there is a website called fargoflooding.com that has a live Red River webcam and Twitter updates to keep residents apprised of the river’s current height.

One page from the Fargo history website even has the following: “The Red River valley has seen floods since long before Fargo was established. There was a tradition among the Native Americans of the region overflowed its banks [sic] and the whole Red River Valley became a sea in the spring. The tradition has lived on to the dismay of many as the floods continue today.”

No, that doesn’t make any sense, but I think the implication is clear: Apparently some people were of the mind that the floods wouldn’t continue today, despite the fact that they’ve happened almost every year in the past. That is why, every year, you will see some moron on CNN standing on the roof of his flooded house expressing shock that such a tragedy could have befallen him.

Look, I’ve never been to Fargo, and I can’t envision a scenario that would cause me to go there, so I can’t comment on what sort of place it is. Maybe it’s heaven on Earth and is worth fighting for. I’m sure if it was my home I would feel that way, too. I just can’t figure out how it became a city in the first place.

You’d think that the first settlers in the area – after riding out a famously cold North Dakota winter – would have gotten soaked by a flood in the spring and decided anywhere else would be a better place to live. Apparently those old frontiersmen were pretty stubborn, though.

Am I suggesting that the residents of Fargo should up and move when the going gets tough? No, even though that’s exactly what I would do. It would be more or less unthinkable for all those people to abandon their homes like that.

But I will suggest this: Those 1 million sandbags that you all just got done filling? Maybe you want to leave those in place so you don’t have to go through all this again next year.


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