Disaster in Minot

When the floodwaters of the Souris River overtook this North Dakota city, A-1 Evans Septic Tank Service jumped in to provide needed sanitation relief
Disaster in Minot
The A-1 Evans team includes (left to right) Sandon “Dude’’ Varty, Sheila Moffatt, Carson Varty, Chase Peterson and Marty Wahus.

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THE TEAM

Sandon Varty, owner of A-1 Evans Septic Tank Service in Minot, N.D., works with a full-time staff of eight. When needed, he brings in a couple of his neighbors – farmers and ranchers – to help out. The company also does septic work, and everyone is cross-trained, including office manager Sheila Moffatt. Varty’s cousin, Carson Varty, oversees the portable sanitation crew. Their shop and yard are in an industrial park, and a site is being readied for new offices as they’ve outgrown their home office.

 

COMPANY HISTORY

In 2000 Varty and his brother, Vegas, bought an existing septic/portable restroom company. The business grew and over the last four years they started bringing on employees. Three years ago, Varty bought out his brother, and in June 2011 took on a new partner, Marty Wahus, who got a baptism by fire coming onboard when the Souris River flooded.

Today half the company’s business is portable restrooms. They carry more than 500 units, with 200 more expected by the end of the busy season. Their service territory extends to a 250-mile radius of Minot.

 

MAKING CONNECTIONS

Varty was contacted in early June as the river started to rise. The call came from the National Guard, which had worked with the company in the past for training exercises. It turned out to be a false alarm, but as a pre-emptive move Varty quickly bought a semi load of Satellite Industries Inc. units. The company was just getting into the busy part of its season when the flood came a few weeks later. Varty quickly changed direction from providing units for special events, construction and oilfield work to ensuring the city had sufficient basic sanitation.

 

THE MAIN EVENT

The Souris River flows south from Saskatchewan, Canada, into North Dakota, then runs back into Canada. That southerly dip has occasionally caused havoc for North Dakotans along the river, most recently this June, when dams, dikes and reservoirs could not hold the water back after heavy rainfall added to spring snowmelt.

On Tuesday, June 21, over a quarter of the 41,000 residents of Minot were told to evacuate, most for a second time in a month. Despite heroic efforts to protect property, as the week unfolded, residents watched helplessly as the river slowly took over. By Thursday a major north-south artery in town was inundated and closed. Friday, the 1881 high-water record was broken. Sunday the water crested.

It was another week before the river receded enough for the first residents to return to their homes and survey damage. By the middle of July, residents in the lowest part of the valley still hadn’t been allowed back. The mayor forecast that as many as 800 of the 4,100 affected structures would have to be rebuilt.

Returning residents found basements flooded and drywall, carpets, appliances and personal belongings damaged beyond repair – along with muck, mold and stench. The citizens of Minot pitched in wherever they could. Many rented out spare rooms, garages and RVs. The National Guard, the Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency also were there to help.

Parts of the city’s water and sewer infrastructure collapsed, creating a huge need for portable sanitation.

 

HITTING CLOSE TO HOME

A-1 Evans was not in a section of town under mandatory evacuation orders but Varty felt it would be prudent to move his assets to a safer location. A local construction company allowed him to store his equipment in their yard.

“It was the busiest time in our history but we felt we had to do it to ensure we’d be able to continue doing business as usual,” Varty explains. “For us it was inconvenient at most compared to what other people had to go through.”

Although the flood did not damage his property, he was unable to access it for more than a week because of impassable roads.

 

THE JOB

In addition to providing portable restrooms, the company was engaged in pumping out the RV trailers evacuees were living in. And as the recovery work began they were involved in the cleanup effort, pumping out basements – a process that must be done slowly to avoid structural collapse. Besides river water, basements were filled with sewage. Residents had been advised to plug their sewer drains, but many of those plugs failed due to enormous pressure built up in the system.

 

BY THE NUMBERS

By the first week in July, A-1 Evans placed more than 250 units related to the flood. Most were aqua Satellite Industries Tufways, with a few Aspens from Five Peaks Technology. Four Satellite Industries wheelchair-accessible Liberty units were provided for the FEMA registration site, an assisted living facility (as a precaution) and at the hospital.

The company also supplied 15 Satellite hand-wash stations to FEMA and the national service companies that started arriving in town for the cleanup work.

The company also utilizes about 20 insulated trailers its workers build, starting with American Hauler trailers from Prairie Truck & Equipment in Minot, and adding toilet/holding tank units and corner sinks from Satellite.

 

LET’S ROLL

A-1 Evans began deploying units as soon as the flood hit. They were delivered to numerous locations using 8-, 10- and 12-unit trailers built by Varty’s crew. The National Guard used 75 units for 500 troops. FEMA set some up at its evacuation centers. A commercial landlord ordered 50 for the shopping center, apartment buildings and business plazas it manages. The hospital requested about 20 for its clinics and offices. Individuals and businesses needed units due to the failure of parts of the city’s sewage treatment system, affecting even those who weren’t evacuated.

As the water started to withdraw, the city ordered restrooms to be placed strategically in neighborhoods for residents who began cleanup work.

A-1 Evans uses a software program it created to track units and routes. By early July, seven units were unaccounted for – not surprising considering the devastation. “We might find them somewhere,” Varty says, “and they may be worth saving, but we were in a ‘save life, don’t worry about property’ situation.”

 

KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN

Units in high traffic areas were cleaned daily, others every day or two. All the company’s vehicles were used to handle the load – a 2009 Chevy 3500 with a 400-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater aluminum Brenner Tank LLC tank and Masport pump; a 2007 Dodge 3500 with a 500-gallon steel tank for waste and a 400-gallon aluminum tank for freshwater from Central Machining & Pump Repair in Minot with a Masport pump; a 2006 Chevy 2500 with a 250-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater Imperial Industries Inc. slide-in steel tank with a Jurop pump; and a 2006 Ford F 350 with a 250-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater steel tank custom built by a friend of Varty’s.

Access to units was often difficult as roads were flooded. “One day it took us three hours to go 10 miles,” Varty recalls. But through trial and error they quickly figured out the most accessible routes. With 12 of the community’s 27 lift stations down, normal disposal of waste was not possible. “With the city’s permission, and due to the dire straits, we’ve been dumping directly into the lagoons at the sewage treatment facility,” Varty says.

 

NO END IN SIGHT

The crews at A-1 Evans worked seven days a week, 14 to16 hours a day, all hands on deck. “A lot was asked of the employees and they all stepped up and did what they were asked to do,” Varty says. “It was quite a challenge when the flood came, but when everybody did their part, it went as smooth as it could have.”

The work will continue indefinitely as residents clean out, restore, and rebuild homes and schools, and as the city repairs streets and water lines. “I fully expect a year to two years of flood-related work,” Varty says.



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