FARGO — The fact that the Fargo-Moorhead area is flat as a pancake is not news to anyone, but even a pancake has bumps, and some houses are high enough to stand at the border of safety from flooding.
The highest and lowest elevations across the metro area differ by less than 40 vertical feet, which doesn’t necessarily mean the higher points are impervious to floodwaters, but that the areas would most likely be affected last, city engineers said.
Fargo’s highest elevation appears to be the 32nd Avenue South bridge over Interstate 29 at 928 feet above sea level, according to the city of Fargo’s interactive flood map. The north side's sewage treatment plant appears to be second at 921 feet, then Scheels Arena sits at 920 feet.
No one lives at the sewage treatment plant or on top of a bridge, however. So what about the elevations of residential neighborhoods that people call home?
To answer that question, The Forum sought the help of city engineers and scoured Fargo's flood map — which shows the elevations of almost any block — to identify some of the neighborhoods on the highest ground.
One of Fargo's highest elevated residential areas is on Justice Drive, near Veterans Boulevard and 40th Avenue South, where many residents did not know they lived at 912 feet above sea level.
“I always felt that Fargo was flatter than a pancake,” said Brad Welty, who's originally from Detroit.
A job as a John Deere technician brought him to Fargo eight years ago. He remembered driving into the area and thinking, “Oh my God, I can see forever,” Welty said. “And here I thought the landfill was the overall highest point in Fargo.”
The landfill, according to the city’s interactive flood map, stands at 902 feet above sea level.
Roger Kluck, the city's stormwater flood control engineer, said height doesn’t guarantee safety from flooding.
“There’s a ridge that follows Veterans Boulevard, the separation between Fargo and West Fargo, so generally speaking that is the high point especially from I-94 south,” Kluck said. “From that point, if you’re on the west point, water drains west and on the east the water goes east.”
Pockets of higher ground exist, “but it has to do with when the house was built. In recent years, homes are being built above base flood, it’s really somewhat a factor of age rather than height.”
“You will never hear a city of Fargo employee recommend not to purchase flood insurance,” said Nathan Boerboom, a division engineer for the city of Fargo. “And everybody in this town has a mindset of river levels. Altitudes mean little.”
Not far from Justice Drive, on the other side of Veterans Boulevard in West Fargo, Eddy Charles lives with his family. They recently bought a house in the Shadow Wood area, 910 feet above sea level.
Charles did his homework.
“I did some research on this area, and that’s why I bought here,” Charles said. He studied the flood map, researched flood issues at the library and looked up news articles to find safer areas before he made a choice.
“I think it’s a bit safer. We’re on the border of safety,” Charles said.
Charles plans to buy flood insurance, just to be careful. Originally from the New York area, Charles has never experienced a flood before, and hopes he won’t have to.
Helen Mathwich, from Montana, was visiting her daughter in Shadow Wood and was pleased to learn that the neighborhood is one of the higher elevated areas of West Fargo.
"For my daughter's sake and her family's sake, to know they are in an area that will not flood as easily is good to know," Mathwich said.
West Fargo’s Sheyenne River flood diversion project was completed in 1993, which took the city out of the floodplain, said Dustin Scott, West Fargo’s city engineer.
“While Fargo is still fighting the flood with sandbags, we’re watching and mitigating,” Scott said.
West Fargo’s highest point is along the ridge at Veterans Boulevard, about 910 feet above sea level, and the lowest point is about 893.5 feet in the city’s industrial area, Scott said.
Moorhead is the happy median between Fargo and West Fargo, said Tom Trowbridge, an engineer with the city of Moorhead. Like its North Dakota neighbors, elevation varies little.
For now, Trowbridge and other city engineers are watching the weather and the Red River, hoping Mother Nature will lend a friendly hand during what's likely to be a spring flood.
One of Moorhead’s safest zones is the Evergreen Meadows neighborhood along 40th Avenue South, which stands at 916 feet above sea level.
Jay Searls has lived in the Evergreen Meadows area for 13 years, he said, and has had no issues with flooding, even during the record flood of 2009.
Searls didn’t know his neighborhood was one of the highest elevated areas in Moorhead.
“My biggest concern is the lift stations losing power,” Searls said. “The fields are saturated, and I hope we don’t get much more new snow or rain. We’re going to need a lot of dry and windy days. It can’t go from 20 degrees to 70 degrees for two weeks, that’s for sure."