‘Just come together and help each other out’: Minot Mayor Shaun Sipma reflects on 2011 flood, looks forward

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In our June 23 edition of KX Conversation, we were joined by Minot Mayor Shaun Sipma, who, like so many Minot residents, experienced the 2011 flood.

Thinking back to the time, what was that experience like for you?

“It was an experience that is almost sometimes hard to put into words. At that time, I was a journalist, much like yourself, and getting that phone call and of course, we had been fighting this flood for months and months, but getting that phone call and finding out that we’re going to lose and we’re going to lose big and that my home and my wife’s parents home and a lot of friends and neighbors homes were all going to be destroyed, and then having to come to the further realization that we have a very short time to get everything out and go to work, it was a very tough time for a lot of people throughout the region,” said Sipma.

As you mentioned, you were working as an anchor with KX, along with Jim Olson at the time. How many hours were you on the air at a single time providing the latest information to viewers?

“In total, we went well north of 170 straight hours of coverage and we would take eight-hour shifts at a time on-air,” said Sipma. “But when we weren’t on-air, for myself, I was doing the Blackhawk flights nearly delay, if not in an airplane or out interviewing people, talking with city officials of what was going on or the corps of engineers. So, we were working 20 to 21 hours a day, each of us, getting about three to four hours of sleep and doing that for what felt like weeks. It was just really, sometimes almost foggy, remembrance of all that happens, simply because when it was time to go, it was just all go no quit, until sometime around mid-July when we finally took a break,” he said.

Incredible to think of working around the clock. We heard some of the words that both you and Jim shared last night in a story we aired. What was the main message you were trying to convey to the public during that time?

“I think the main message was that we absolutely needed to come together as a community. This was a long battle. We knew this wasn’t going to be a short turnaround. The more that we were collectively able to come together as a community, the better off we were all going to be. Jim said it about as good as anybody: ‘Things are not spinning out of control. You’re doing alright. Just come together and help each other out.’
That really was the overall message. The rest of it was just details,” Sipma said. “People wanted to know what was going on and we were fortunate to have a lot of great partners throughout not only the local agencies but state and even federal. Utilizing Facebook and social media in a way that really had never been done before, communication with people directly. I had the 10 o’clock shift until 6 a.m. shift and literally using social media to communicate with people, with viewers and find out what was going on and in one instance even helped an elderly lady who didn’t have anybody to help evacuate get volunteers over to her house. It was really a unique time for the community. I couldn’t have been prouder for all the people that were affected but the rest of the community that came together to help out.”

Now, you were a part of our KX Town Hall Flood on the flood that we shot last week. For people that missed that Town Hall, the flood project is still ongoing. How far have you come and what remains?

“We’ve come a long way in 10 years. If you ask anyone, it’s amazing to see all the work that’s been done.
We are marching toward milestone number one and what he hopes in about three, four, maybe even five years, kind of depending upon construction schedules to be done with that, which will give us about 65% protection to the flood of record for the citizens of Minot, basically from about the Railroad Avenue, west of the 83 bypass,” said Sipma. “But given also the restraints of dollars, that really is where our restraints are at, we expect about another 20 years of construction before completion. Alan Walter, the former public works director, gave a great analogy. After the ’69 flood, it took 30 years to get the flood protection of that time constructed. It’s actually tracking about on that schedule. But not to say that all of our partners including very much the city of Minot, all of the officials are going to be working hard to shorten up that timeline.”

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