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Published January 10, 2010, 12:00 AM

F-M unlikely to get corps exception

Letter says lack of flood protection puts area in ‘vulnerable position.’
As the Army Corps of Engineers studies the costs and benefits of a diversion for Fargo-Moorhead, one local group wants it to make an exception and consider the potential for jobs to be shipped overseas because of a catastrophic flood or the threat of one.

As the Army Corps of Engineers studies the costs and benefits of a diversion for Fargo-Moorhead, one local group wants it to make an exception and consider the potential for jobs to be shipped overseas because of a catastrophic flood or the threat of one.

Corps Project Manager Aaron Snyder said it’s still being considered. But he and Brian Walters, president of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., don’t sound optimistic it will be part of the analysis.

“I don’t believe they will include that,” Walters said.

That could make a difference in the corps’ final determination of whether a North Dakota-side diversion – the option favored by most governmental entities in the metro area – will be eligible for federal funding.

In a Nov. 3 letter to the corps, Walters noted that out of 381 U.S. metro areas, Fargo-Moorhead ranked first in economic vitality and 16th in economic diversity according to Moody’s Economy.com, and had the second-lowest unemployment rate, as a result of trying to grow its primary-sector businesses.

But local corporations that serve a global market have voiced concern about the cities’ ability to provide the flood protection needed to support their daily operations, he wrote.

The inability to move goods to and from the community during a devastating flood event, combined with the inability of employees to get to work, “has placed Fargo-Moorhead in a vulnerable position,” Walters wrote.

“Through communications during and after the spring flood event of 2009, we have reason to believe that a number of companies would re-align their manufacturing footprint, resulting in a loss of sales and employment to facilities overseas,” he wrote.

The letter doesn’t say who might leave. Companies don’t want that kind of information made public, making it difficult for the corps to quantify potential economic losses, he said.

Proving economic loss is easier at a regional than national level, Snyder said. A company that relocates overseas takes jobs with it, but the move also may reduce the cost of goods and services for U.S. consumers, he added.

Corps officials in St. Paul were told by their superiors that considering the impacts of lost F-M jobs and sales on the national economy would require a detailed economic analysis and is “not consistent with our policy,” Snyder said.

“There’s a lot of assumptions that go into it, and a lot of people can poke holes at those assumptions,” he said.

The corps has estimated that a catastrophic failure of flood protection would cause $2.1 billion in overall damage to Fargo-Moorhead during a 100-year flood event and $6.6 billion in damage in a 500-year flood event. For perspective, the 1997 flood in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minn., caused nearly $2 billion in damage.

To be eligible for federal funding, a flood protection option must provide at least $1 in benefit for every $1 in cost, for a cost-to-benefit ratio of at least 1.0.

The corps has received revised cost estimates for the diversion options being studied and is reviewing them now, Snyder said.

To reduce costs, they explored different types of structures at river crossings, various channel depths and minimizing the amount of material excavated, he said. A more detailed study also allowed the corps to reduce contingency funds built into the initial estimates, he said.

Corps officials will meet with local leaders Feb. 1, followed by public meetings Feb. 2 in Fargo and Feb. 3 in Moorhead, to present the findings, including whether a North Dakota diversion meets the cost-to-benefit ratio of 1.0.

Two diversion options in North Dakota, with capacities of 30,000 and 35,000 cubic feet per second, are being studied. Both would incorporate the Sheyenne Diversion, Snyder said.

The corps is looking at four options for a short diversion in Minnesota, with capacities of 20,000, 25,000, 30,000 and 35,000 cfs.

A preliminary corps analysis found that three Minnesota short diversion options costing $962 million to $1.264 billion all met the cost-benefit ratio, while the closest North Dakota option had a ratio of 0.95 and cost $1.337 billion.

On Feb. 1, the corps will give the local flood group an updated schedule for deciding on a plan, Snyder said. The plan will need to be finalized by September if it’s to be included in the 2010 Water Resources Development Act, should Congress pass the bill, he said. The last such act was passed in 2007, and before that, one was passed in 2000.


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

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