Forum editorial: Fast-track F-M flood protectionLast week’s meeting of the Metropolitan Flood Management Work Group was yet another indication of just how complex and frustrating implementation of effective flood protections for Fargo and Moorhead will be.
By: Forum Editorial Board, INFORUM
Last week’s meeting of the Metropolitan Flood Management Work Group was yet another indication of just how complex and frustrating implementation of effective flood protections for Fargo and Moorhead will be. For starters, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare that begins with a two-state, two-city local component and escalates with a maddeningly slow-to-act federal component.
The group’s charge seems straightforward: decide on a flood protection plan that meets federal standards and local needs. But when competing priorities are factored into the flood-protection equation, there is nothing straightforward about it. When costs and comparative benefits are thrown in, parochialism can sour the brew. A few local and state officials contributed to that recipe shortly after the 2009 flood.
Last Wednesday’s meeting of the Work Group seemed like a bend-over-backward exercise to keep everyone’s feathers unruffled. For example, when the group meets in North Dakota, it will have a chairman from the Fargo City Commission; when it meets in Minnesota, a Clay County commissioner will preside. Which could lead observers to wonder: Are flood protection priorities so different on either side of the Red River that a working group looking at comprehensive community solutions needs two chairmen? Has flood protection been appropriated by the traditional turf battle?
It might be a small point, but the structure of the group suggests consensus will be elusive. Making nice and presenting a patina of cooperation do not translate into making the hard decisions.
If potential local conflicts aren’t worrisome enough, the snail’s pace at the federal level – the source of real money – is of greater concern. Yes, the Army Corps of Engineers and other key federal agencies are bound by policies and procedures. And yes, developing a flood-protection consensus takes time. But in the short term, Fargo and Moorhead officials know what has to be done. Urban flood protection elements of a broader, basinwide water management plan should be fast-tracked.
North Dakota and Minnesota have pledged funding. The people of Fargo voted overwhelmingly for a special sales tax to pay the city’s share of a project to protect the most vulnerable parts of the city. It appears the earliest federal appropriations will be forthcoming is late in 2010, that is, if a new Water Resources Act is fully funded by Congress.
The flood situation in the Red River Valley constitutes an emergency. Recent history of the river and its tributaries confirm greater frequency and greater intensity of floods. It’s more than a likelihood a big flood will happen relatively soon. It’s a certainty. No more dawdling, please. No more petty parochialism and turf protection at the expense of serious flood management. No more go-nowhere studies that disappear into the federal maw.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.