The last house standing on Riverview Circle

NBM_4520.web.jpgJohn Brummer stands in his backyard yesterday, looking at the still-rising Red River.

Four years ago, John Brummer and his wife Jeanie — with the help of many friends and family — saved their home on the banks of the Red River in south Moorhead. Just barely, but they saved it.

“At that time we were a couple feet lower,” John said yesterday, standing in his since-fortified backyard. “And we would stand here and be eye level with the water. It was a pretty overwhelming experience, quite frankly, and awesome at the time.”

In the following years, every one of the Brummers’ neighbors on the river side of Riverview Circle took buyouts from the city and moved, as you can see.


This year, the Brummers stacked sandbags again. It wasn’t anything like 2009 of course, as this year’s crest prediction has been steadily lowered as the water rises. Then, family and friends worked for eight days straight to save the home. This year, it took three hours over the weekend to stack 3,000-4,000 sandbags.

That’s what is necessary during the flood. In fall and winter, John spends “many hours” working on landscaping and snow removal to make the spring work easier. And in 2010, he and his wife took out their old deck and built a permanent flood wall to provide more protection. They even added on to their home.

A few questions came to mind, as he described all this to me.

First, why? Why not just take the city’s buyout offer and move somewhere that causes a whole lot less headache?

“This yard, when the water is gone, is a great place for the kids to be. In the winter time, we have our own sliding hills. It’s like having the lake country effect in our backyard,” he told me. “We’re spoiled in that way, but we’re willing to work for it.”

The nearest lake to Fargo is almost an hour away, so that’s understandable. (That said, I won’t be swimming in the Red River anytime soon.)

The family, which also includes Jeanie’s 98-year-old mother, also says they would miss the wildlife. A wild turkey was just feet away as I was talking to John.

Second, at what point does all the work outweigh the luxury of living next to the river?

“Life goes on. As long as we can do this in a reasonable fashion and take the necessary precautions, I think we’re OK. Once this is elevated a little more, can we put down 2-3 feet of sandbags every year? Yeah. Do we want to? No. … That’s just the cost of living here,” he said.

Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger told MPR’s Dan Gunderson yesterday that the Brummers’ home doesn’t pose much risk to the city during flood season because of infrastructure improvements — mainly the sewer system. Previously, one homes’ backed-up sewer could affect neighbors.

So what would spur the Brummers’ to pack up and leave? Flood insurance. After Moorhead finishes building permanent levees, it will apply for FEMA certification that would lower flood insurance costs for the neighborhood (among other things).

“We don’t want to be the last hole in the dike that would allow the city to be FEMA certified. If it does get to that point, we will reconsider. I wouldn’t want to be the last person preventing that,” John said.