Mind over money: Flood protection would hit homeowners’ pocketbooksRivers prone to flooding pick the pockets of people who live near them. There’s the cost of protecting property from overflowing banks with sandbags and clay dikes, and the cost of cleaning up once the waters recede. When the water can’t be stopped, damage adds up.
By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM
Rivers prone to flooding pick the pockets of people who live near them.
There’s the cost of protecting property from overflowing banks with sandbags and clay dikes, and the cost of cleaning up once the waters recede. When the water can’t be stopped, damage adds up.
Many local homeowners will face a flood insurance bill for the first time after new floodplain maps are released this summer.
And then there’s an alternate cost to consider: the price of permanent flood protection.
This would reduce the likelihood of flooding and shrink the floodplain, requiring fewer homeowners to buy flood insurance. But additional taxes and assessments to fund it could put a financial strain on some homeowners.
How much such a project would cost is not yet known. Some estimates approach a billion dollars.
Having paid the price for the spring flood of 2009, area residents seem to crave a permanent solution. They saw how well a $409 million flood protection project worked in Grand Forks, N.D., this year.
But are they willing to open up their pocketbooks?
“It all depends on what you’re opening your pocketbook for,” said Fargo resident Shirley Syverson.
Syverson has lived on River Road South since 1964 and dealt with flooding before, but this year caused more problems than she could handle herself. Two feet of water filled her unfinished basement.
“I think they need to do something permanent,” Syverson said. “It’s more urgent that it be done because it’s happening way too often.”
In the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, annual flood damage is estimated at more than $64 million, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The total cost of this spring’s flood is not yet known. The corps is in the midst of a feasibility study for a potential federal project to protect the metro area. Preliminary estimates are approximately
$625 million for a levee system and $909 million for a diversion.
Also in the mix is Fargo’s Southside Flood Control Project, currently tagged at around $161 million, with $11 million in federal dollars.
Between 9,000 and 10,000 properties in the area of benefit would be assessed, said Tom Fischer, chairman of the Southeast Cass Water Resource District. He said early figures are about $2,800 to $3,800 per property.
Officials who have been pitching the southside project have heard from residents opposed to and supportive of paying for permanent flood control.
“I’ve heard the whole gamut of things,” said April Walker, project manager and an engineer for the city of Fargo. “Some (home)owners have said ‘Let’s get it done already, we’ll pay.’ And some people have said ‘This extra assessment is enough; I can’t afford my home anymore if you do this to me.’ ”
John Adams, mayor of Briarwood, just south of Fargo, has been outspoken in his opposition to the Southside Flood Control Project. But he said he’s more than willing to pay for a diversion, despite its price tag.
“It will be the most expensive, but it’s the only one that’s going to work,” he said. “Dikes and levees fail eventually.”
Since being proposed as an option, officials have said the diversion may not be feasible because of its cost compared to the fiscal benefit. The levee option seems more likely to meet the federal cost-benefit test.
With a combined population of about 195,685 people in Cass and Clay counties, that $625 million project would work out to roughly $3,194 per person.
But that’s not how it would be paid for.
If the corps is able to recommend a federal project, the federal government would likely pay for 65 percent of costs, said Craig Evans, one of the corps project managers.
The state would likely pick up a portion of the remaining 35 percent, and the rest would come from local dollars.
That could include special assessments and increased property taxes, and potentially
$200 million in revenues from a half-cent sales tax in Fargo if approved by voters Tuesday.
These were the revenue streams used for the permanent flood protection project in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minn., following the 1997 flood. This $409 million project serves as an example for how the cost burden can be shared.
Half was paid for by the federal government. Minnesota was responsible for
$72.5 million, and North Dakota paid $132 million.
The North Dakota Legislature pitched in $52 million, making Grand Forks’ local share $80 million, said Kevin Dean, the city’s public information officer.
Of that, $19 million came from sales tax revenue, $14.5 million from general obligation bonds and
$46.5 million from three citywide special assessments. The third will likely be assessed later this year.
The assessments total about $1,800 for a median-priced home in Grand Forks, Dean said.
Dean, who was hired right after the flood, said while there wasn’t unanimous agreement on the project, Greater Grand Forks recognized something had to be done to prevent another historic flood.
Though the city and its residents still carry a debt load from the flood and the protection project, Dean believes most would say it was the right thing to do.
This spring’s flooding caused little more than inconvenience for Grand Forks when two of three bridges over the Red River closed, he said. But there were no massive sandbagging efforts. And residents didn’t have to plug their drains.
“The peace of mind that people got this year after realizing that this permanent flood protection system did what it was supposed to do, that peace of mind was invaluable,” Dean said. “How do you put a price on that?”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556