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Our view: Soon, a new era in Grafton

Herald editorial board

Congratulations, Grafton. You are on the cusp of a new era – your community’s post-flood years.

Starting in 2020, floods hopefully will be a thing of the past in Grafton, since a $45 million diversion project is underway with hopes that it will guard against messy and expensive floods forever.

The Herald reported on this innovative project in Monday’s edition, showing photos and video of heavy equipment in the process of moving more than 1 million cubic yards of earth as diversion channels are dug and other flood-preventing structures are put in place. When completed, the division channel will be 3.2 miles long, running west to east on the north edge of Grafton. The project also will include 12 miles of tie-back levees to protect the city.

It began in the cold winds of March and is really taking shape in the warm sun of August. Overall, it is expected to be finished in the fall of 2019, with 2020 set as its first real test.

Mayor Chris West told the Herald the project will save Grafton not only from future floods, but also from the stigma – worries, insurance costs and so forth – that comes with being a city in a floodplain.

“We won’t have to fight floods or spend community dollars working on flood projects, and time and resources. The benefit is exponential,” he said.

“The economic value is that our community will be able to grow and prosper in the future without having to worry about floods or paying flood insurance.”

That last line rings true, and anyone who knows anything about the 1997 flood likely would agree: It’s difficult to have progress in a city when flooding remains an annual concern. When the ’97 flood swallowed Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, it led to the demolition of more than 1,000 homes and other structures. But as the flood wrought devastation, it also brought rejuvenation, thanks to an increased focus on flood protection and, later, growth.

The growth may not have come without the flood protection that finally arose after the floodwaters receded. East Grand Forks and Grand Forks aren’t entirely without flood worries, but our chances are better -- and our worries are less -- than before flood-control efforts were completed.

Minus the devastating flood, of course, we hope the same thing now happens in Grafton, and we appreciate that residents there have made the financial commitment to get this project completed.

Construction of the diversion and levees will cost $25 million. An additional $20 million was needed for land acquisition, engineering and expenses. It’s being paid for with a $32 million grant from the North Dakota State Water Commission and a half-cent sales tax increase – approved by voters in 2015 – that will generate about $12 million.

As flood insurance costs come down, property owners can circulate that money elsewhere in the community. And as insurance costs come down, property values likely will rise. Best of all, West told the Herald, is the possibility that the city now will have time to focus more on economic development.

This is an example of a community-changing project, and one that will benefit generations of residents. It really is the beginning of a new era in Grafton.

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