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Published April 28, 2009, 12:00 AM

Corps not keen on area cities keeping dikes

Fargo and other area cities hope to keep some of their temporary levees, to the chagrin of the federal agency that built them.

By: Dave Roepke, INFORUM

Fargo and other area cities hope to keep some of their temporary levees, to the chagrin of the federal agency that built them.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, plans to send letters to cities later this week advising against keeping emergency levees built by the corps, said Tim Bertschi, area engineer for the corps.

“We want to let the communities know they should not depend on these for permanent-type protection,” he said.

The worry is that levees – constructed in a hurry, often in poor conditions – may not hold up for the long haul. About 15 cities in the region hope to keep some of their earthen levees in place, Bertschi said. One of those cities is Fargo, where the corps-contracted work to remove levees is already under way.

In the removal plan included with the solicitation for the levee-removal contract, Fargo identified 19 areas where it would like levees to remain. Those spots are crucial areas that aren’t on roads, said City Engineer Mark Bittner.

“We basically used the criteria that if another event came next year, would we have to do the same thing,” he said.

Mary Lee Nielson, mayor of Valley City, N.D., said officials there also hope to keep some of their temporary levees, which were built by the corps to hold back the record-high Sheyenne River. She said city officials realize the levees aren’t “certified,” but at least the clay and dirt could be used for longer-lasting and higher-built protection.

“It would just be a shame to take out all this material that’s needed for permanent dikes, considering the damage it did to our roads, to put them in,” she said.

Valley City has made temporary dikes permanent before. The city’s dike walls were built as temporary in 1997. Bertschi said those levees showed their history when leaks developed this year.

Moorhead’s removal plan calls for contractors to take material from levees the city might want to keep as new permanent protection and dump it nearby, said Bob Zimmerman, city engineer. City crews could then rebuild the walls, avoiding trouble with the corps and ensuring confidence in the structures.

The corps will be meeting with cities to hash out details after the letters are sent, Bertschi said. Some temporary levees might be allowed to stay, he said, as long as they aren’t part of a citywide protection plan. But integrity of the levees isn’t the only issue. There may also be environmental concerns, he said.

“From a common-sense standpoint you stand back and go, ‘Boy, if you don’t have to, why would you take it out and have to go through this whole thing again?’ ” Bertschi said. “From the other side of that standpoint, you have people that are living behind them, living behind something looking at it, saying, ‘That’s a levee, you know, but is it really?’ ”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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