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Published September 08, 2011, 07:53 PM

State Moves to Condemn Land For Tolna Coulee Structure

(AP) — North Dakota's Water Commission has begun a process of forcing the city of Devils Lake to sell land for a flood-control structure, although Mayor Dick Johnson said Thursday that negotiations on the dispute are still possible.

By: Associated Press,

(AP) — North Dakota's Water Commission has begun a process of forcing the city of Devils Lake to sell land for a flood-control structure, although Mayor Dick Johnson said Thursday that negotiations on the dispute are still possible.

The Devils Lake City Commission voted last week to deny a state request to buy the land. The panel will hold a special meeting Monday to discuss its response to a Water Commission notice that said the state would force the land sale if city officials refused to allow the construction, Johnson said.

"It's nothing we didn't expect," Johnson said of the condemnation notice. "We had expected they may opt to do that."

The state wants to use the property to build a water-control structure on the Tolna Coulee, a deep ravine that is a natural channel between Devils Lake and the Sheyenne River in northeastern North Dakota. The rising lake, which borders the town, has been flooding thousands of acres of land.

If Devils Lake rises high enough, its waters will start flowing through the coulee into the Sheyenne. Todd Sando, the Water Commission's chief engineer, said the control structure would be designed to limit that natural flow, which could increase dramatically on its own if the flow erodes the coulee's channel.

Johnson said state and city officials disagree about where the structure should be located and the state's general approach to draining water from the lake. An outlet channel built at the lake's west end has had little effect, and a proposed new east-end outlet channel may not be any more helpful, he said.

The Water Commission's condemnation notice said state officials are still willing to negotiate a resolution to the dispute, and Johnson said city officials are open to further talks.

"Let's give it one more try before we see how it shakes out," Johnson said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, the Water Commission's chairman, said the Devils Lake City Commission's refusal to sell the land should not delay the project.

Dalrymple said some critics of the control structure mistakenly believe it will act as a dam, holding water in the lake rather than letting it drain away.

The structure will simply regulate coulee water flows that otherwise would happen naturally, to ensure they do not cause severe flooding downstream, the governor said. The Sheyenne River loops through southeastern North Dakota before it turns north and joins the northward-flowing Red River near Fargo.

"There has been some continuing misunderstanding, I think, about the purpose and the function of that structure," Dalrymple said. "It is not a dam. It is not designed to hold water in Devils Lake for any significant period of time."

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