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New fairground drainage not quite ready for untimely rainfalls

More work is to be done to fix water issues at the Wadena County fairgrounds.

Wet Midway.JPG
A watery, muddy mess welcomed fair goers to the midway at the Wadena County Fair on Thursday, June 23, 2022.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal
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WADENA — The heavy rainfall amounts during the week of the Wadena County Fair were too much for one of the fair’s main attractions, the midway, which was already wet before the fair got underway.

According to the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, which has a station at the Wadena Airport, Wadena received 2.56 inches of rain on Friday and another .38 inches on Saturday. They also report that for the week of June 19, a total of 4.7 inches was recorded.

This is no small amount and left water standing on area fields, as well as created washouts and channels from the swift moving water. It was a lot of water, but the new drainage system was designed to handle moving a lot of water. The new system is fitted with a lift station, collections system and ponds that were supposed to move the water north of the fairgrounds property to the tune of about 10,000 gallons a minute. The cost of the project was expected to be $1.96 million and was paid for with state bonding dollars. But with the sod just recently seeded and drainage systems not fully set to handle the deluge, it appeared the system was not ready for the forces of nature that the region has been experiencing.

Those passing by the property may notice dewatering and pipe laying this week as the infrastructure goes into the ground.

When it was realized that drainage was not occurring fast enough, there were conflicting reports about what happened next.

According to fair board member Kylene Lehmann, the carnival pulled in earlier in the week and started to get stuck upon entering the fairgrounds. The fair volunteers worked to pull them out and get them where they needed to be. Thursday and Friday storms only made matters worse. Standing water was present from one end to the other. People shuffled around to find any dry path that would lead them to a ride.

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Lehmann said the county was asked for help, but she said help never came.

“So we had to figure it out,” she said. “We didn’t have the equipment or resources to figure it out.”

Wadena County Coordinator Ryan Odden explained that the county did act by getting the contractor on the scene to make adjustments.

“After the first event, the contractor did come on Friday afternoon and was able to adjust the drains on the Midway lower to take more water,” Odden said.

Water pumping Midway.JPG
A carnival worker moves a sump pump stationed near the west end of the Wadena County Fairgrounds midway on Thursday, June 23, 2022.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

Taking their own actions, the fair volunteers bought a sump pump to send the water out of the ride area near the west end of the midway. The pump slowly but steadily pumped water away from the rides.

When rain fell again on Friday, members of the fair board decided to bring in a semi load of wood chips which were dumped across the midway and “kicked around” until they covered the surface. This apparently took hours to complete by hand and foot. At first it was a mess of floating wood chips. By Sunday, the final day of the fair, the wood chips and increased drainage seemed to have soaked up what moisture was left.

“We don’t even know if we did the right thing,” Lehmann said.

Lehmann expressed frustration with Wadena County government over a lack of communication and action when help was needed.

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“Instead of leaving us high and dry, they left us low and wet,” she said of Wadena County staff.

Odden however said that actions were taken to assist the problem. He commented that it was unfortunate that so much rain fell at the start of the fair.

“The project was at a stage where turf wasn't fully established and per the stormwater permit requirements, we had to have inlet protection on the drains. Which did not help for them to have the capacity they’re designed to have,” Odden said. “The contractor did remove the inlet protection and that helped dry up a few of the areas.”

He added that with the rides now out of the area, they can go back in and fix the problem, hopefully for good.

“We will go back and do some shaping to make sure everything drains to the spots they're supposed to and re-seed the areas damaged by the fair and the storm,” Odden said. “We had anticipated that we would have to do some repair work after the fair.

“Once we have a sod base established that will also help loosen up the soils to take more water in the event like we had. I noticed when I was walking that a lot of the soils were very compacted.”

The struggles over who does what at the fairgrounds continue to be a topic that arises at both Wadena County Commission meetings and Wadena County Ag Society meetings. Both parties tend to have different beliefs in who owns what property or building and who should be maintaining each of those properties.

He's a writer, editor, photographer, truth seeker and promoter of the Wadena area.
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