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Demo In Waubay

August 9, 2012, 10:00 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Demo In Waubay
WAUBAY, SD -

It's a day people in Waubay knew would come but it's still sad to see. Contractors have started tearing down homes threatened by flooding.

Often the constant sound of contractors is a healthy sign in a community. But current work in Waubay is disheartening instead.

"Oh yeah, a lot of people have had to move," Carl Christenson said.

And that number is climbing. More than 50 homes in Waubay will either be moved or destroyed through a FEMA program. They're threatened by the rising lakes surrounding the northeast South Dakota city.

Christenson expects his home to come down at the end of the month.

"I've got to go some place. I don't got no exact plans yet. [I] kind of want to stay in the area but finding other decent housing is kind of hard to do around here," Christenson said.

There are few available lots and a lot of displaced people are looking. When the moving and demolition is done, there will only be five homes left south of the tracks in Waubay.

That's where Christenson's home is and he will probably join several others leaving town altogether.

Contractors will tear down 26 homes during this first round of buyouts. Mayor Kevin Jens figures only half of those people are relocating within Waubay. He's not sure if even half of the second round of buyouts will stay.

"Our population really took a hit this last year," Jens said.

Jens expects that to affect the city's property and sales tax revenue along with enrolment at the school.

"It's disheartening and when you listen to the stories of those losing their homes, it really makes it tough," Jens said.

Those stories are playing out in different parts of town. A gutted house visible from U.S. Highway 12 on Blue Dog Lake awaits its demo day. Neighbors say the woman who lived here worked hard to keep her home before it flooded.

Owners are salvaging what they can from houses before they’re torn down. Some of the properties still have mortgages. But with approaching water, there's little homeowners can do.

Even as Bitter Lake, which was once mile from Waubay, expanded, people in Waubay didn't expect it to grow into the threat it did.

"No, we didn't ever imagine it being quite this bad," Jens said. "But it did happen. Now we have to look at what to do to plan for the future because this water is going to be here for a while. It's not going to just leave."

The city is already working on those plans. It's improving the infrastructure such as its sewer system in certain places so more homes can connect to it. That will allow more people to live on high ground in Waubay rather than leave.

"I think we are going to bounce back. And I really truly believe where we sit, future development within the community here we are working on some plans so that we can construct new homes towards the highway. I think we will see a big change here," Jens said.

And the community is working with organizations to get people on that property when it's developed well out of the reach of flooding lakes surrounding the city.

The city of Waubay is taking over bought-out property. It plans to turn them into a park or garden area that will come with little maintenance cost.

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