Flood Group Sticks With Original Red River Plan

May 28, 2010

A group studying a Red River diversion project in the Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., area said it will stick with its original plan even though it may not offer as much flood protection as first advertised.

The Metro Flood Study Work Group, comprised of officials from both sides of the river, had voted in February to endorse a 35,000-cubic feet-per-second channel on the river’s North Dakota side. The $1.46 billion plan was expected to protect residents to a 500-year flood level, but updated estimates by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers show the possibility of higher river levels than originally calculated.

Corps project manager Aaron Snyder told the group that a larger diversion study could take up to two months, which would “pretty much guarantee” the project would miss a December deadline for Congress. Even so, he said it may be possible to increase the size of the project after it’s approved in Washington.

“Right now it’s important to move forward,” Snyder said. “There’s options to go bigger later.”

Area residents spent the last two springs battling major floods, including a record-setting crest in 2009 that damaged hundreds of homes and forced thousands to evacuate. Fargo residents showed their support for flood protection last summer when 90 percent voted for a half-cent sales tax increase.

Preliminary figures show that the federal government would pay $886 million for the North Dakota diversion, leaving a local share of $626 million.

The corps is under a tight timetable because Congress is expected to approve a major water projects bill next year, the first since 2002.

“We want to stay on task and stay on time,” said Kevin Mahoney, Fargo’s deputy mayor.

The group was expecting to discuss a feasibility study and environmental impact statement on the North Dakota project, but that report has been delayed a week, Snyder said. It will outline the project’s design phase, he said.

Using the best figures available, the current plan would provide residents protection in “excess of 100 years,” Snyder said. City and county leaders have said they want 500-year protection.

“Things can always change,” Snyder said. “The U.S. Congress can always authorize something different as we move forward.”

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