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Published March 17, 2009, 12:00 AM

Levee building projects to begin

Gears are in motion to build levees to protect housing subdivisions south of Fargo from flooding on the Wild Rice River.

By: By Dave Olson and Patrick Springer, INFORUM

Gears are in motion to build levees to protect housing subdivisions south of Fargo from flooding on the Wild Rice River.

In Moorhead, residents were warned Monday night to start shopping for sand and sandbags.

In Cass County, officials are keeping an eye on forecasts, but plans call for levees to zigzag for about 2½ miles, using existing roadways much of the way, including stretches of 25th Street South and 88th Avenue South.

That section is west of South University Drive, said Keith Berndt, Cass County engineer.

In the vicinity of 76th Avenue South, another levee will be built east of South University Drive.

A similar emergency levee system was built in 2001, said Berndt, who presented a drawing of the emergency levees to the Cass County Commission, which will ask the state to declare an emergency to trigger assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers in building the dikes.

Berndt said it is too soon to start building the levees because forecasts may change, but he said work could begin next week.

Moorhead residents packed a lecture hall at Minnesota State University Moorhead on Monday to hear that the latest forecast sees a 50 percent chance the Red River will reach 38.5 feet.

There is a 1-in-3 chance the river will hit 39.6 feet, according to Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman, who reminded the audience the river reached 39.5 feet in 1997.

“At what point do we need to panic?” asked Kathy Berry, who lives on Dale Avenue in south Moorhead, near Horn Park.

“If we do our job, you shouldn’t be concerned, unless everyone is overwhelmed,” said Zimmerman, who added the city will augment and extend the Horn Park dike when the river reaches 37 feet.

The work should provide protection to 40 or 41 feet, Zimmerman said.

He said a great deal of information is available by clicking on the yellow “flood 2009” button on the city’s Web site at www.cityofmoorhead.com.

The site includes graphics that show how various flood stages would affect specific properties.

A slide show presented at Monday’s meeting will be available on the city’s Web site today, and a webcast of the meeting is expected to be viewable on the city Web site by Wednesday.

Zimmerman said those without computers can call the city engineering department if they have questions. The number is (218) 299-5390.

The city’s policy is not to provide residents with sand and sandbags, but Zimmerman said the City Council could change the rule, depending on how severe the situation becomes.

Officials said the worst flooding is expected April 8-22, though Zimmerman warned the situation could change and people should stay vigilant.

In other flood preparations, the city of Fargo has offered to host a single sandbagging center that also would serve Cass County residents outside the city. In the past, the county had a separate sandbagging center.

The joint sandbagging center will be located at the city’s Metropolitan Area Transit garage in north Fargo, said Dave Rogness, Cass County’s emergency services manager.

Fargo city crews will deliver sandbags to rural subdivisions or other cities, where residents will go to pick them up, he said.

Rural residents should start planning now for sandbagging and other steps to protect their property, Rogness said. However, because the ground is still frozen, it probably is too soon to start sandbagging now.

Three tributaries to the Red River – the Wild Rice River, Sheyenne River and Maple River – are expected to overflow their banks and cause overland flooding, Rogness said.

Information to help rural residents build dikes will be available on the flood information page of the Cass County Web site, www.casscountynd.gov.

Late Monday, workers in Wilkin County, Minn., were picking up dirt and clay and storing it along a stretch of Highway 210 about eight miles east of Breckenridge, Minn.

The material was being stockpiled in case a levee needs to be built to protect the highway from snowmelt that is beginning to pool in fields near Breckenridge.

In some places, entire sections are becoming flooded, said Tom Richels, Wilkin County engineer.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555