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Flood plans could come at high price

Army Corps of Engineers proposals to prevent future flooding in the Red River Basin could require hundreds to move

BY ZACHARY HOFFMAN | FARGO, ND | October 23, 2009

"Itís so widespread in North Dakota itís almost across the whole state"

—Bonnie Turner, North Dakota Long-Term Recovery Committee

More than 1,000 homeowners and some farm owners whose farms have been in their families for generations may have to abandon their properties depending on which flood protection plan is selected for the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and has narrowed flood plans to two viable options for the Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota, revamping of the levee system or extra flood diversions.

A revamped levee system would offer added protection, but would also cause more than 700 homes and businesses in Fargo and more than 300 in Moorhead to relocate. Likewise, new diversion systems would flow into fertile farmland where some families have lived for generations.

“We’ve screened out things like upstream storage and non structural measures,” said Craig Evans, senior project manager for the St. Paul District of the USACE. “Relocating all high risk structures is not feasible because of the flat nature of the flood plain here, practically every home in town would be affected.”

“There is a real interest in protecting the last urban areas that do not have enough flood protection, and that is Fargo, North Dakota, and that is Moorhead, Minnesota,” said Lance Yohe, executive director of the Red River Basin Commission (RRBC).

“It’s not a plan for the future,” Yohe said. “It’s what needs to be done to give ourselves protection.”

Evans said, “There are two questions we need them (residents) to answer in fairly short order. What is a tolerable risk for their community? What are they willing to pay?”

Marvin Jacobsen was born and raised on a farmstead in the Oakport Township of Minn., where one of the proposed diversion channels would go. The diversion would destroy his land; however, he supports the USACE’s plans if it prevents future flood disasters.

“Something’s got to be done,” Forum of Fargo-Moorhead (INFORUM) reported Jacobsen saying, at a meeting with the Corps’s project planners and more than 300 other residents.

Evans and his fellow project planner Aaron Snyder for USACE have been meeting with many residents and officials to explore the plans on the table and possible alternatives for flood protection. One option always available is to leave things how they are.

“We always have to look at no action, that’s our baseline,” said Evans.

Pembina County, ND County Commissioner Andy Adamson Jr. does not view no action as an option, but also expresses his concerns that pouring a billion dollars into protecting the Fargo/Moorhead area is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound.

“It just keeps getting worse and I think it’s going to continue to get worse,” Adamson said. “Let’s takes some more money and fix the whole problem.”

Pembina County is one of the last counties the Red River encounters on its northern trip to Canada. Added flood mitigation may protect the Fargo-Moorhead area, but all the water eventually travels downstream.

Adamson said, “The water all comes past us and it seems like the way it’s been for years and years and years is everybody is trying to get rid of water faster and it all comes towards us.”

“It doesn’t mean that just because there are only 8,000 people in our whole county you can run all the water at us,” he said.

For some residents of the Fargo-Moorhead area the USACE plans projected completion date of 2016 will not come soon enough following the 125 year flood of 2009 and a previous large flood event in 1997.

“We can’t spend a billion dollars in a week, at least not on flood control,” said Evans.

March 2009 was one of the biggest floods in North Dakota in more than 100 years of record keeping; of the 53 counties in the state. only six counties were not declared as federal disasters. Recovery is still in full swing more than half a year after the event and volunteers and donations are still needed.

“We’re trying to play down the term ‘100 year flood,’” said Mike Lukes, service hydrologist for the National Weather Service (NWS) in Grand Forks, ND. “People get the mindset that we had the 100 year flood so we're good for 99 years, but that’s a misinterpretation of what it really is saying, each year there is a one percent chance.”

“It’s so widespread in North Dakota it’s almost across the whole state,” said Bonnie Turner of Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) and chair of the North Dakota Long-Term Recovery Committee.

The scale of area affected by this flood has made it very difficult for volunteers and case managers to meet the unmet needs across the state. LDR, the United Methodist Church (UMC), the United Church of Christ (UCC), Catholic Charities and many other faith-based recovery organizations have joined up to aid as winter sets in.

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