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Corps: Dikes nearly complete

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has certified the dike systems in Grand Forks and northern East Grand Forks as functionally complete, the start of a process that would allow property owners to dispense with flood insurance.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has certified the dike systems in Grand Forks and northern East Grand Forks as functionally complete, the start of a process that would allow property owners to dispense with flood insurance.

The Point area in East Grand Forks would not be ready for certification until sometime in September.

That's according to project manager Bonnie Greenleaf, who said the delay in the Point is mostly because of unforeseen soil instability at several locations. The corps is working on remedies.

Delays in state funding had been a worry for city leaders, but Greenleaf said they were always able to find money to keep contractors going.

The $417 million dikes would protect the two cities from a 210-year flood, a flood equal to the 1997 Red River flood that devastated the area and led the government to build the new dike systems. Construction began in August 2001.

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What's next

The next step after corps certification is for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to agree to that certification. The agency administers floodplain maps that determine which properties are at risk of flooding and must buy flood insurance.

Normally, it would take many, many months for FEMA to create a new map that would exclude areas protected by the dikes. But for the Grand Cities project, the agency had started the remapping process early. The hope, as FEMA officials had expressed in October, was to have a new map almost as soon as the corps certifies the dikes.

An agency spokesman was not able to issue an immediate response late Friday, but said the agency would be able to answer questions about timelines Monday. Grand Forks city staff indicated that they do not yet have a new floodplain map.

Once the cities receive the map, they would have six months to review and approve it, though city staff has said they would not expect to take nearly that long. Shortly after this point, property owners would be able to cancel their flood insurance.

What's happened

Even at the start of last year's flood season, the dikes were already at an advanced stage. The cities had all but shrugged off the fifth highest recorded river levels. Instead of anxiety, the flood caused only curiosity as hundreds of gawkers visited the river to see the swirling waters.

But there were still gaps in the system that the cities had to fill. Contractors filled most of those gaps during the year.

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In Grand Forks, the biggest change was the completion of earthen levees in the far north end, near the Riverside Dam, according to corps resident engineer Craig Johnson. The city had had trouble earlier acquiring the land from RDO Foods.

Other areas of progress during the year included:

-- Levees near Riverside Park.

-- The floodwall at the old St. Anne's Guest Home near Gateway Drive.

-- Floodwalls downtown and by Campbell House south of Lincoln Park.

-- The raising of Merrifield Road and the southern section of Belmont Drive. Another layer of pavement is needed but the elevation of the road is high enough.

All that's left, Johnson said, is planting trees, growing grass on the levees and checking off some minor incomplete items, such as re-caulking one of the floodwalls.

In East Grand Forks, contractors during the year completed Phase 3 of the dikes and the Heartsville Coulee Diversion, both in the Point area, according to city engineer Greg Boppre.

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What remains are three separate areas on the Point where contractors unexpectedly encountered instable soil and levees in Phase 4, a big section on the north end of the city. Crews will be working to solve those problems between now and the fall.

Tran reports on City Hall. Reach him at (701) 780-1248 or ttran@gfherald.com or see his blog at www.areavoices.com/gfhcitybeat .

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