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Area cities wait for flood-fight assistance

Grafton, N.D., experienced its third-highest flood in history this spring. Yet, the twice-cresting Park River did not require major sandbagging and did not destroy a single home.

Grafton, N.D., experienced its third-highest flood in history this spring. Yet, the twice-cresting Park River did not require major sandbagging and did not destroy a single home.

It's a success story that comes with ramifications in the eyes of Mayor Todd Burianek.

"What this ends up meaning is that we're able to protect our town with the temporary things we do," Burianek said. "That has compromised our ability to get permanent flood protection.

"Sure, it's been perilous, scary and dangerous, but we've handled it. It's hard to say we need permanent protection when no one lost anything."

The city still has an Army Corps of Engineers-authorized project. But with so many other communities hit this spring while Grafton escaped relatively unscathed, the Walsh County city is far down the priority list.


Even if it was higher on the list, Burianek is doubtful that Grafton's 4,000 residents have an appetite for the project. In 2004, the same year a spring flood hit 202 Grafton homes and caused more than $1 million in damage, 63 percent of voters turned thumbs-down on a flood protection plan.

The same project still is in play, with Grafton having to cover $5 million of the estimated $41 million price tag.

"The definition of insanity is to repeat the same actions and hope for a different result," Burianek said. "If we repackage the plan the same way, without anything that would reduce our costs, I don't see how the vote will change.

"We would need 14 percent of the people to switch their votes."

If stimulus money or other sources would lower Grafton's cost, Burianek said he's willing to try another vote. Until then, when high water arrives, the Army Corps of Engineers' bulldozers likely will once again be moving clay to hold back the Park River.

With flooding widespread in the region, more communities are in various stages of installing flood protection, planning for it or considering it. Meanwhile, others are resigned to handling flooding when it arrives.

Following is a look at some other flood prevention prospects in the region.

Roseau making progress


If everything goes as planned, Roseau would be fully protected by a $30 million project by the end of 2011.

Roseau has received the $5.1 million from the Corps that is needed for this year's projects. The city also has $8 million coming in both the state House and Senate versions of the bonding bill, which is in conference committee. Since the money is in both versions, it should be secure.

The money will be used to build three bridges this year. In 2010 and 2011, state and federal governments will need to allocate a combined $17 million to complete the project. Most of the work those years will involve building a diversion channel, which will run a half-mile east of the city.

"This year's work is to build the bridges and acquire the land to build the channel," Mayor Jeff Pelowski said. "It should be fully functional by the end of 2011, meaning it will have taken (nearly) 10 years.

"Ten years -- that's also how long it took in Grand Forks-East Grand Forks and Warren, projects that are working beautifully."

Ada still waiting

Ten years isn't a magical number. Most of Ada was hit hard by flooding in 1997, but it's still waiting for its permanent project.

The Corps' preliminary study is expected soon, said Shelly Kappes, Ada city clerk. The plan includes moving a drainage ditch away from the city. And that diversion would have a higher slope that would serve as a dike. Land needs to be acquired before work can start.


The city has taken some measures, such as a non-certified dike on the south side and the addition of floodgates and generators for lift stations.

But, for permanent protection, "We're in that sit-and-wait kind of place," Kappes said.

Crookston looks to St. Paul

Crookston is keeping a close eye on the last few days of the Minnesota legislative session.

Money for Crookston flood prevention is in the Senate version of the bonding bill, but not the House version. If $8.5 million remains in the bill, the city could finish work in Sampson's Addition, leaving just Jerome's Addition and a few small, scattered areas left to protect.

"One of the encouraging things is that (Gov. Tim Pawlenty) has said that he'd like to see $50 million go for flood damage reduction," said Mike MacDonald, flood control project manager.

"If that happens, then we're hopeful we'll be able to finish the Sampson's project."

With funding this session, it could be completed in 2011. Crookston won't receive federal money because the projects don't meet the required benefit/cost ratio.


Buyout interest grows

Rural residents can't do much about flooding except get out of the way. That's what is developing at a greater rate this year, according to county emergency managers.

"People have been out there for years and years and years, fighting floods," said Gary Durand, emergency manager for Marshall County in northwest Minnesota. "This year, the flooding went too long and they've had enough.

"Some were without power again last week and that was the straw that broke the camel's back."

In Marshall County, at least eight homeowners are in the buyout process and 22 more have applied. With FEMA, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Employment and Economic Development all having buyout programs, money might be available for all of them.

Marshall's cities are protected with dikes or diversions, but Oslo might seek home buyouts to move its dike to more stable ground. "It's in the talking stages," Durand said.

Walsh County in North Dakota also has heightened interest in buyouts.

"In this pattern where floods are coming more and more often, there are more people talking about their options, whether they're buyouts or ring dikes or something else to fortify themselves," said Brent Nelson, Walsh's emergency manager.


Applicants compete state-wide for the buyout funds. "With the widespread flooding in the state this year, there's potential for a lot of towns and rural properties to qualify," Nelson said.

Nelson said another Walsh County concern is finding a way to stabilize the banks along the Park River. This year's high and sustained water cut into the banks. "If it keeps cutting and causing breaks, flooding could affect homes not currently impacted," he said.

Some small towns, such as Minto, will either have to move residences out of threatened areas or battle floods as they come. Diking to protect the low-lying neighborhood in Minto is cost-prohibitive, Nelson said.

Traill County is talking with FEMA about buyout money for fewer than 10 properties in the county that often are threatened by floodwaters. Most of them are in a low-lying area in Mayville that was hit hard this spring. The others are along the Red River.

"There's not a whole lot more that can be done (for protection)," said Steve Hunt, acting county emergency manager. "Hillsboro has a couple of issues, but nothing a ring dike here or there can't solve."

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

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