Red River Flood Protection Plan to Stay on Original Course

May 28, 2010

According to some verified reports, group studying the Red River diversion project in the Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN area has decided to stay with its original plan, despite that fact that it may not offer the level of flood protection initially claimed.

Comprised of officials from both sides of the river, the Metro Flood Study Work Group had voted three months ago to endorse a 35,000 cubic feet-per-second channel on the North Dakota side of the river. Originally, that $1.46 billion project was expected to provide flood protection to a 500-year flood level, but more recent estimates from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers show different data, with the possibility of higher river levels.

Aaron Snyder, the Corps project manager, explained to the group that a larger diversion study could take up to two months, and would “pretty much guarantee” that the group would miss the December deadline for Congress, but added that it may be possible to increase the scale of the project after Washington has granted its approval. “Right now, it’s important to move forward. There’s options to go bigger later,” Snyder said.

The last two springs have seen areas residents fighting massive floods, including 2009’s record-setting crest which damaged hundreds of homes and forced thousands of people to evacuate. Last summer, Fargo, ND voters indicated their support of the flood protection project, by voting for a half-cent sales tax increase, to offset the local share of the project’s cost. The preliminary estimates had the federal government paying $886 million, which left the other $626 million the responsibility of local authorities.

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

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.

Snyder said that the group had planned a discussion of the feasibility study and environmental impact statement on the North Dakota project, but the report was been delayed a week. The report in question will outline the project’s scope. Using current estimates, the plan as it stands now would provide flood protection “in excess of 100 years,” he explained. City and county leaders, however, are adamant about wanting 500-year protection.

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

It is not known if this project will impact flood insurance requirements for communities along the river.