“I would really like to see the city conserve and capitalize its assets,” said Valley City’s newest commissioner, Madeline Luke. Two of Valley City’s biggest assets, Luke says, are the Sheyenne River and a walkable downtown. Luke hopes to use her seat on the city’s commission to preserve both.
“I think people are naturally drawn to water,” Luke said. She has lived in various communities with rivers, which she says are beneficial to both quality of life and attracting travelers.
The river “turns Valley City from kind of an open prairie area to a nice, protected green, tree-lined area,” Luke said.
Preserving the Sheyenne River and maintaining the quality of the water is important to Luke, and as coordinator of Ad Hoc Downstream Group, a group dedicated to find ways to save the Sheyenne River from Devils Lake water, she has plenty of knowledge and experience on the issues facing the river.
While Luke was campaigning for her seat on Valley City’s city commission, she saw several locals casting lines in the river by the little dam.
“The nice thing about Valley City is it’s small enough so you have everything right outside your door,” Luke said, adding that residents here don’t have to travel far to see water and its wildlife.
In recent years, the river has reached record spring flood levels and is currently the topic of heated debates by the State Water Commission as well as the communities along Devils Lake and the Sheyenne River.
The State Water Commission would like to drain water from Devils Lake into the Sheyenne River to prevent catastrophic flooding in the future.
“I think it’s very important that we do flood control” Luke said, “but I think we need to do it in a fashion that maintains the aesthetic qualities of the town.”
Ad Hoc along with another local group, People to Save the Sheyenne, both claim that if the river received Devils Lake water, the quality of the water would reduce greatly.
“Having a really muddy, smelly river doesn’t add to anyone’s quality of life,” Luke continued.
Luke says the river isn’t the only asset that adds charm to Valley City; she also enjoys the compact, walkable downtown area. Luke would like to see more shops downtown that make Valley City feel like a destination place.
“We’re not going to attract a big box store, and we have them on either side,” Luke said, adding that the city should take advantage of what it has and pull in what’s unique. One thing that makes Valley City unique, Luke says, is its cross between small town living and having amenities.
She would like to see the downtown amenities be a critical mass that is enough for people to come off the highway to stop in Valley City.
Luke also said that Valley City is a gateway to residents and travelers visiting Lake Ashtabula, which is part of the Sheyenne River that was made by the Baldhill Dam.
To implement these ideas, which Luke acknowledges would take money and expertise, Luke would like to use the committees that are already in place and bring in some new ideas. “I think we have a lot of talent here; it’s just a matter of setting some goals and seeing what the interest is,” Luke said.
“People, I hope, would feel like they would want to participate in getting the city going again after three years of really difficult times,” Luke said.
Luke said having open communication is a great way to get people involved. “Transparency really is pretty important,” Luke maintained.
“I know there are a lot of challenges as far as fixing up the city. I think people are probably taxed as much as they can pay. We need to keep this place affordable,” Luke said.
“The other way of getting more money in town to take care of services is to grow it,” Luke said, adding that she’d like to see it grow with good-paying jobs while keeping Valley City aesthetic as possible.
Luke was elected as city commissioner June 12 along with Mary Lee Nielson. The new commissioners will attend their first regular meeting Monday and will serve four year terms.
Luke has already started preparing for her duties as commissioner. She has made an appointment to review the budget and will review the booklet on meeting rules and regulations.
“I’m not afraid of asking questions,” Luke said, and she welcomes comments and suggestions from citizens.
Luke grew up in Providence, R.I., where she also went to medical school after attending college in Boston. She trained in New York City.
She moved to Valley City in 1984 and has been practicing medicine here ever since. She also spent four years in Fargo at the Veterans Affairs.
Luke says traveling to and living in different cities has helped her see issues from an outsider’s point-of-view, realizing the positive and negatives of issues.
Luke and her husband, Gary, have two kids, Annie and Christopher. Gary is a North Dakota native, who Luke says has provided her with a lot of the knowledge and appreciation she has of North Dakota.
“Valley City is a good place to raise a family--I did,” Luke said.