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Published October 18, 2009, 12:00 AM

Group optimistic about corps flood control feasibility report

A group of influential Fargo residents pushing a diversion project as the best means of flood control is optimistic as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares to unveil a feasibility report during a high-stakes meeting Monday morning in Moorhead.

By: Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM

A group of influential Fargo residents pushing a diversion project as the best means of flood control is optimistic as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares to unveil a feasibility report during a high-stakes meeting Monday morning in Moorhead.

Former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer and other Flood Protection Coalition members are hopeful the benefits of a Fargo-side diversion will justify the cost in the corps’ eyes.

“We’ve heard that the costs have come down some, and we think that the more and more we look at it, the benefits are going up,” Schafer said. “So, hopefully we can be within striking distance to gather the public support, and the public will to make this happen.”

The corps remained tight-lipped last week about which flood protection alternatives will meet its cost-benefit formula.

Corps Project Manager Aaron Snyder said officials were still working on the plans and crunching numbers, and no information would be available until Monday’s meeting with the Metro Flood Management Committee in Moorhead.

The corps also will hold public meetings from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the report and gather input.

Tuesday’s meeting will be at the Howard Johnson Inn in Fargo. Wednesday’s meeting will be at Hagen Hall at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

The only cost figures offered by the corps so far were preliminary price tags of $909 million for a 30-mile-long Red River diversion on the Minnesota side and $625 million in levees along the river in the metro area. Those numbers were released in May.

In late June, the coalition went public with its push for a diversion on the North Dakota side.

Since then, Schafer said, the group has met with political and public entities on both sides of the river, corps officials, engineers, area watershed districts and outlying cities and townships to try to convince them of the long-term and more encompassing benefits of a diversion.

“All of us have been very pleased with the reception,” he said Friday at Fargo’s Radisson Hotel, where he and fellow coalition members Ron Bergan, CEO of Fargo Assembly, and Bruce Furness, the former Fargo mayor, met with members of the Red River Basin Commission.

The coalition’s other members include RDO Equipment Co. chairman and founder Ron Offutt, former Microsoft executive Doug Burgum and Scheels CEO Steve D. Scheel.

One option the group has proposed to reduce the cost of a diversion is diverting the Wild Rice River instead of the Red River, Schafer said. The Wild Rice contributed heavily to Red River flooding last spring, and diverting it could save $100 million by not having to cross Interstate 29 south of Fargo and eliminating the need for a floodway control structure on the Red River, he said.

That option won’t be included in the corps’ alternatives unveiled Monday.

Snyder said the corps ended up looking at two levee alternatives, three nonstructural alternatives and nine diversion alternatives – six on the Minnesota side and three in North Dakota.

Among the levee alternatives, the corps has analyzed only earthen levees so far, but may look in the future at where floodwalls would be more effective, he said.

Of the two levee options, Snyder said, one would provide protection from a 1-in-50-year flood and the other would protect against a

1-in-100-year flood, which would be similar to last spring’s record Red River level of 40.82 feet.

Schafer and Bergan said that’s not high enough.

“What does that give you? Nothing. That’s what we’re doing now,” Schafer said.

Bergan, citing the 91 percent of Fargo voters who approved a half-percent city sales tax for flood protection on June 30, said local residents he’s talked to want protection from a 500- or 700-year flood level, which Winnipeg enjoys after recently expanding its floodway.

“And the only way to get that is a diversion,” he said.

The majority of public comments submitted to the corps this past summer favor a diversion option, but local officials know the issue will come down to whether the benefits justify the cost.

Bergan said there has been “a lot of effort by a lot of people in the community” to capture all of the benefits a diversion would provide and present them to the corps.

Local elected officials tapped Brian Walters of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp. to gain a better understanding of the corps cost-benefit analysis model and to compile information to boost the metro’s chances of meeting the corps’ standard.

Walters said he met twice with corps officials. The information he provided wasn’t necessarily specific to a diversion, but rather pertained to the business disruption and economic loss that a catastrophic flood would cause, and the need for some kind of comprehensive flood protection to avoid it, he said.

Calculating potential flood damage to buildings and infrastructure is fairly easy, Walters said.

What local officials don’t want the corps to overlook is the potential damage to the national economy and international business that would result from a flood disrupting F-M businesses or forcing them to relocate, he said.

“I really won’t know until probably Monday exactly what the results of that (are),” Walters said. “They were very receptive to the information that we brought forward.”

If you go

  • What: Public input meetings for flood protection feasibility study by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

  • When: 6-9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.

  • Where: Townhouse room of Howard Johnson Inn, 301 3rd Ave. N., Fargo, on Tuesday; Hagen Hall/Science Lab Complex Auditorium 104 at Minnesota State University Moorhead on Wednesday

    Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528