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Published June 30, 2009, 11:12 AM

Early turnout slow for flood protection sales tax vote

UPDATED 11:11 a.m.
Oak Street resident asks if it's going to take a catastrophe to convince people that permanent flood protection is needed
FARGO – The long lines of sandbaggers who fought back floodwaters in Fargo this past spring aren’t being replicated at the polls today as residents vote on a half-cent sales tax to fund future flood protection.

By: Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM

UPDATED 11:11 a.m.

FARGO – The long lines of sandbaggers who fought back floodwaters in Fargo this past spring aren’t being replicated at the polls today as residents vote on a half-cent sales tax to fund future flood protection.

“It’s been slow,” said Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir, who had visited six of the 16 polling sites by 11 a.m. “None of them are overwhelmed with voters, but some of them are steady.”

Only 15 people had voted by 8:30 a.m. at Riverview Place, the city’s southernmost polling site in one of its most flood-prone areas,

Twenty people had cast ballots at West Acres mall by 8 a.m.

“People are not turning out,” said Dick Brothers, election inspector at the mall. “They turn out for the flood, but not for the protection.”

Montplaisir said the city has roughly 55,000 eligible voters, and he was hoping for a turnout of 15,000 to 20,000.

“But I don’t think we’re going to get that. It’s a lot slower than that,” he said.

At El Zagal Shrine in north Fargo, 40 people voted in the first half-hour.

About 20 people who were asked by The Forum how they voted all said they voted in favor of the half-cent tax, which would generate a projected $200 million over 20 years for flood protection that has yet to be identified.

Oak Street resident Mark Evenson said that after major flood battles in 1997 and 2009, it’s time for a permanent flood solution.

“What’s it going to take, a catastrophe before everybody decides it needs to be done?” said Evenson, 56, who helped sandbag his neighborhood this spring.

“Besides,” he added, “I’m getting too old to throw those things.”

Victor Teigen said that while his Eighth Street North home sits at a higher elevation, “you have to take care of your neighbors and fellow workers.”

“I think it is a no-brainer,” he said of voting for the sales tax.

Elm Circle homeowners Jim and Karen Mitchell, who also helped sandbag their neighborhood, said permanent flood protection is necessary to avoid yearly flood fights.

“It’s just (that) it’s so disruptive for the whole city,” Karen Mitchell said.

Barb Gramlow, whose 52nd Street South home behind Home Depot is several miles from the Red River, said she’s all for the tax, although it likely won’t benefit her property.

“I’m ready for them to fix it for good,” Gramlow said after voting at West Acres on her way to work in downtown Fargo.

Paul Winje, who had to flee his home in River Vili with his wife and three kids during the spring flood, said the sales tax is a means to a flood solution.

“For me, it’s a small price to pay to get closer to that,” he said.

Polls are open until 7 p.m.

For more coverage of today's sales tax vote, check back to www.inforum.com and read Wednesday's Forum for detailed post-election coverage

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