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Sandbags Going Up Early But More Volunteers Needed As Waters Threaten Harbor Island

Harbor Island residents didn’t mind having a dozen county convicts in their back yards. The labor crew in the orange vests on Tuesday helped build a mile-long wall of 70,000 sandbags to keep the Spokane River out of homes.

It’s just one of the efforts to fight flooding in water-weary North Idaho. Last year’s soggy lessons were well-learned, residents say, and this time they’re taking steps to stop the water cold.

The Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe rivers receded some Tuesday, but were still at flood stage. But Lake Coeur d’Alene was rising, draining into the Spokane River - and neighborhoods like Harbor Island. The lake is expected to reach flood stage by the weekend.

Early Tuesday, about 40 people worked on the barrier which will protect about 20 homes. By afternoon, Kootenai County Disaster Services officials asked for 200 more volunteers.

“We’ve got the bags and the sand,” sheriff’s Deputy Shane Moline said. “We just need the people.”

On Monday, at least 200 pitched in. They were members of the Mormon church, highway district staff, firefighters, deputies and homeowners. They stacked 20,000 sandbags until about 9 p.m.

“Yesterday, I watched (the water) go up eight inches in about six hours,” Doug Freeland said Tuesday, his back yard over-run with wheelbarrows and mounds of sand.

Laborers stuffed “Idaho Grown Beans” sacks full, then stacked them in rows 2 feet high. Gray-haired neighbors helped, fueled by black coffee from Styrofoam cups. The head of the neighborhood association rode around on a knobby-tired ATV, pulling a trailer of sandbags behind. It rained, then brightened, then rained again.

“They’re a lot further ahead than they were last year,” Freeland said of the spectacle. Last year, flooding caused millions of dollars in damage across the Panhandle.

“I get a sense (the labor crew) almost enjoys this versus other alternatives,” Freeland said. “Well, maybe not enjoy…”

Kootenai County Disaster Services officials asked boaters not to cause wakes, and to stay away from the Spokane River near Harbor Island.

People were also putting down sandbags along parts of Hayden Lake. Some neighbors had water seeping into their yards, said disaster services spokeswoman Sandy Von Behren.

In other parts of North Idaho, the receding waters were welcomed. But the National Weather Service continued to warn of floods.

Waters dropped a foot near Cataldo, where three area roads were impassable for everything but boats and big trucks Monday. Von Behren expects drowning Latour Creek Road to re-open soon.

In Bonner County, several roads remain overrun with water, said road department spokeswoman Leslie Marshall. A 20-foot stretch of Wrenco Loop, a road off Highway 2 near Sandpoint, became so bogged down that a section slid down a hillside Sunday. No one was hurt.

In St. Maries, the Army Corps of Engineers spent Tuesday raising Milltown Road, allowing it to serve as a dike. Officials will meet today to decide whether to raise Meadowhurst Dike on State Highway 3.

Fortunately, the St. Joe River was dropping an inch every eight hours, a county spokesman said. It is expected to have dropped a foot by late today or Thursday. At its peak, the river rose to within just a foot of the lowest dike.

The Coeur d’Alene River near Enaville was receding Tuesday, said Shoshone County Sheriff’s Lt. Bill George. Some homes along the river had been evacuated earlier this week when they were surrounded by water. Several hundred feet of Second Street in Mullan even washed away, George said.

Boundary County is having on-going problems with roads, especially Highland Flats Hill Road just south of Bonners Ferry and the West Side Road, which runs parallel to Highway 95. Both remain officially closed due to complete or partial wash-outs.

Back at Harbor Island, neighbors can only wait for the weekend, hopefully safe behind a wall of sand. And at least one guy doing community service said he was glad to help. It was more fulfilling than, say, picking up roadside trash.

“I’ve lived here most of my life,” Michael Stevenson said. “It’s a beneficial thing for the community, to get help from people who are paying penance for their ill deeds.”

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