NECHE, N.D. -- A disagreement between the North Dakota Department of Transportation and Neche city officials over culverts apparently will result in non-completion of a two-mile stretch of a Highway 18 road improvement project.

Two miles of Highway 18 from Cavalier County Road 55 to the Canadian border will not be included in the resurfacing and widening project that is under way because Neche city officials will not sign a floodplain permit, said Les Noehre, North Dakota Department of Transportation engineer, Grand Forks District. The permit is necessary to complete work on a roadway that is considered to be in a floodplain.

Neche city officials and NDOT are at odds over the removal of culverts on the two-mile stretch of highway. Noehre said removing the culverts is not an option, but Neche city officials believe it is.

The plugged culverts often cause flooding, resulting in closure of North Dakota Highway 18 between highways 5 and 55, said Stuart Symington, Neche mayor.

But Noehre said the highway section only is flooded for about a week in the spring and that removal of the culverts can’t be done without careful study and with the approval of parties that will be impacted by the action.

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“You can’t just go and change things so it floods somebody upstream or floods somebody downstream,” Noehre said.

Making a change in drainage without knowing the impact it has on others would be inappropriate, he said.

Two years ago, an international commission made up of representatives of the North Dakota state government, Manitoba provincial government and U.S. and Canadian governments studied whether it would be feasible to add culverts to stop the flooding, Noehre said. The cost of that project would have been $6 million, which was too costly for the DOT to undertake, he said.

If the culverts are not removed, Symington said he won’t sign the floodplain permit; without the permit, NDOT won’t complete the Highway 18 project.

“The flood permit says that we’re fine with the flood going by the city of Neche,” Symington said “I said ‘I can’t sign off on the flood permit when our town is going to still be in jeopardy.’ Almost every flood, the water goes over the highway and is 6 to 8 inches deep and is causing eroding and undercutting on the road.

“We’ve wanted those culverts out for many years,” he said. “It definitely needs to be done.”

Said Noehre: “It’s not a dispute to me. It’s something we can’t do.”

He sees the only option as finding some entity that will fund the $6 million project to put in more culverts.

Symington, however, said conversations he’s had with DOT officials in Bismarck have indicated that the culverts will be removed if the Cavalier County Water Board gives its approval.

As of Wednesday, completion of the last two miles of the Highway 18 project north of Neche was at a standstill.