Coronavirus concerns already prompted East Grand Forks leaders to declare a citywide health emergency last week. Tuesday, it pushed them to declare an early flood emergency, too.

Mayor Steve Gander signed that second declaration on Tuesday, March 24. Almost immediately afterward, City Council members, who called into the meeting remotely to avoid face-to-face exposure to one another, unanimously voted to extend it until the end of the spring flood. Declared flood emergencies are more or less standard in the Grand Cities every spring because they make both cities eligible for state and federal aid.

But East Grand Forks is notable this year because it’s about two to three weeks ahead of schedule. That, explained City Administrator David Murphy, is because city leaders hope to get started on flood preparation now, rather than sometime in April, in case any city workers are stricken, quarantined or otherwise sidelined by the virus.

“Who knows what’s all going to be happening?” Murphy said.

Public works employees are already staggering their shifts and have been instructed not to take breaks together.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

The declaration isn’t strictly necessary for the city to start gearing up for flood season, but East Grand Forks administrators can point to it -- and the hours crews log while they set up temporary flood walls -- when they ask Minnesota and the feds for reimbursements.

The National Weather Service predicts that the Red River may crest at 46 feet or higher, and city staff and officials on both sides of it have been gearing up for what they’ve called a “top-five flood.” The river’s flood stage is 28 feet high.

East Grand Forks City Council members briefly considered capping the extension at 30 days or until floodwaters recede, whichever comes first, but ultimately decided against it by a 4-3 vote. Council member Mark DeMers proposed that idea, saying he is wary of a lengthy emergency period and arguing that the council could meet again to renew the declaration if necessary.

“If we know we need it for more than 30 days, we should make it for more than 30 days,” Mayor Steve Gander said of the declaration.

As a public service, the Herald has opened this article to everyone regardless of subscription status.