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New downtown Fargo floodwall to ‘embrace the river'

FARGO – Rolling prairies flush with flowers, textured limestone walls and maybe even a fishing pier – this is the possible future of flood control in downtown Fargo.

For city leaders, it sure beats the alternative.

“We really could’ve ended up with a metal 10-foot wall down there, but you have turned it into a beautiful, creative place where people are going to want to gather,” City Commissioner Melissa Sobolik said Monday, thanking the architect team that worked on the downtown floodwall project. “They can actually enjoy and embrace the river.”

The wall will stretch along Second Street from about Fourth Avenue North down to Dike East on the south side of Main Avenue. 

The design concepts approved by commissioners in a meeting Monday include limestone way-finding columns, greenway trails and undulating prairie flowing up against the wall, making it seem not-so-tall in some areas.

Norm Robinson, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said he reviewed the designs and came away with positive feelings about what he described as a fairly unobtrusive floodwall.

“During most of the year, we’ll have opportunity to get to the river, use the bike paths,” he said. “I see this entire project as a great insurance policy for downtown and for Fargo.”

Robinson acknowledges that some views of the river will be lost, but in general he believes the floodwall “will be a nice addition to downtown.”

For the southern portion of the wall, which will run in front of the Fargo High Rise, the city will plant prairie grasses and flowers on the wet and dry sides of the dike, which could include yellow and purple coneflower, prairie dropseed, lady fern and daylily.

The northern portion of the wall in front of City Hall would have two openings – at Fourth Avenue North and at First Avenue North – for access to the river corridor, said Gregg Thielman, project manager from Houston-Moore Group, the city’s consultant on the floodwall.

The wall also won’t be straight but rather will feature a number of sections that jut in and out, somewhat mimicking the curves of the river.

“We incorporated a number of indentations … to try to make it look more aesthetically pleasing and not just look like a big wall through the downtown corridor,” Thielman said.

With Second Street North shifted to the west to allow room for the wall, there will be space on the wet side of the dike for natural tree growth, recreational trails and seating areas, based on the design concepts.

In one drawing, a fisherman is shown casting a line into the Red River from a pier-like river overlook. City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn joked that the angler might be Commissioner Mike Williams.

“If there’s a fish on the end of the line, then it’s me,” Williams quipped.

On Tuesday afternoon, Fargo resident Mike Zahnow was taking a break from delivering pizzas to sit on the bank by Dike East and soak his feet in the water. “It’s just a nice place to look at, you know, or just hang out by the river,” he said.

Zahnow, 46, said he wasn’t concerned the floodwall would cut people off from the river. He saw the need for more protection from high water.

“Throw up as much of a floodwall as you can,” he said, but cautioned, “We don’t want to overdo it and be too scared.”

A northern piece of the wall will be built this fall, when crews construct a new pump station in front of City Hall. Crews will also build 450 feet of floodwall on the south side of Second Street in front of the High Rise this fall. A new, larger pumping station will also be constructed there.

The aim of the floodwall is to prevent the costly and disruptive construction of temporary dikes on Second Street during floods, which is common enough that it happened twice in 2013. It will also allow for higher river flows when the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion is in use. The Congress-approved $1.8 billion flood control channel, which is still seeking funding, would divert floodwaters around the metro area.

Commissioners approved the floodwall design concepts Monday on a 4-0 vote. Mayor Dennis Walaker was absent.

The total price of the floodwall is $53 million, with the state paying half, said City Administrator Pat Zavoral. Fargo’s flood-control sales tax will help pay for the city’s share.

City Engineer April Walker said some of the concepts proposed aren’t necessarily included in the $53 million price tag. For instance, she said the city would need a private-sector partner and some fundraising to build the pier.

“There’s a lot of opportunities,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to do is create opportunities.”

Fargo engineers are looking for public feedback on the floodwall design concepts. Detailed plans are available on the city’s Web page at

Readers can reach Forum reporters Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518 and Archie Ingersoll at (701) 451-5734