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Published October 20, 2009, 12:00 AM

F-M needs to pick flood plan by Dec. 1

Fargo-Moorhead officials finally have plenty of options for flood control.

By: Helmut Schmidt, INFORUM

Fargo-Moorhead officials finally have plenty of options for flood control.

But it will test their ability to work together to quickly pick a plan by Dec. 1 that could determine the area’s safety for decades.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presented an array of diversion and levee options Monday at a meeting of the Metropolitan Flood Management Committee at the Moorhead Marriott.

With the project on a tight timetable, corps engineer Craig Evans said his agency needs to know by Dec. 1 whether local officials support a diversion channel in Minnesota or North Dakota, or levees.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who acted as chairman for the meeting, said crunch time is here.

“The next 90 days, I think, is going to be a critical period” said Dorgan, who is chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Water Subcommittee. That group decides which U.S. water projects to fund.

“The task is clear. We now have to build a consensus,” North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven said.

Six plans presented by the corps meet the threshold to get funded by Congress because their benefit-to-cost ratios are 1.0 or higher.

Five of those plans involve diversion channels carved through Minnesota. The diversions are estimated to cost between $962 million and $1.26 billion, and vary in length, water moving capacity and the nerve-calming level they provide.

The cheapest diversion and the one with the best benefit-to-cost ratio, would carry 25,000 cubic feet of water per second. It could take a 500-year flood down to the level of a 100-year-flood event. And it could drop a 2009 flood – a modern-day record – to the 30-foot level. It involves some road closures and levee construction, Evans said.

A diversion that could carry 45,000 cubic feet of water per second, while costing $300 million more, would take a 500-year-flood and drop it to the level of a 10-year-flood, Evans said.

The other plan is for a $902 million system of levees through the heart of Fargo and Moorhead.

That plan will likely face opposition because corps officials said it would mean removing 700 homes in Fargo and 300 in Moorhead from along the Red River to build levees to protect against 100-year floods.

Corps’ engineers say they can’t build levees in the city to protect against higher flood levels.

Two North Dakota diversion plans are very close to meeting the 1.0 benefit to cost ratio.

Those plans will be studied further to be sure no benefits have been forgotten that could tip the economic equation to the acceptable side, Evans said.

While a North Dakota diversion may face a more favorable political climate, the costs are daunting – $1.34 billion and $1.36 billion – compared with Minnesota channels, Evans said. North Dakota diversions would cut across several rivers, including the Sheyenne, Wild Rice, Maple and Rush, and there are environmental concerns tied to cutting through those systems.

Also, while the federal government is willing to pay 65 percent of the costs for projects, funding rules could tip the cost share closer to 50-50 on larger projects, Evans said.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he is worried local leaders won’t have time to make a good choice if they wait until early November to meet.

Fargo City Commissioner Tim Mahoney and Clay County Commissioner Kevin Campbell – co-chairmen of the local group charged with evaluating the corps’ plans for Fargo, Moorhead and Cass and Clay counties – said they’re putting off their meeting at the corps’ request, and will meet as often as needed to get the job done.

“We’re going to make something come out here that works perfectly well for both sides,” said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D.

F-M Metro Study timeline

  • December: Once a local decision is made, the corps will work on the plan and prepare it for release.

  • January 2010: The plan is released and a public meeting is held.

  • March 2010: The plan goes to an independent external peer review.

  • May 2010: Formal public review of feasibility report.

  • September 2010: Feasibility report is finalized.

  • December 2010: The recommendation goes to Congress.

  • January 2011: If it is approved, the creation of a detailed plan and specifications begins.

  • April 2012: Construction begins.

The corps estimates the Fargo-Moorhead area would pay an average of $73.7 million a year in flood-related damages without a project in place.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583