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In the line of water

HENDRUM, Minn. -- As Mike Smart walked through a soybean field near the confluence of the Elm and Red rivers just west of Hendrum the other day, he picked up shards of century-old pottery, 4-inch-long square nails and metal scraps from wagons or ...

Mike Smart
Emergency Services Officer Mike Smart shows a section of a soybean field near Hendrum, Minn., that has slowly been eroding away from the continual flooding of the Red River since 1997. Herald photo by Sarah Kolberg.

HENDRUM, Minn. -- As Mike Smart walked through a soybean field near the confluence of the Elm and Red rivers just west of Hendrum the other day, he picked up shards of century-old pottery, 4-inch-long square nails and metal scraps from wagons or other equipment used by pioneers who settled a community called Quincy, Dakota Territory, nearly 140 years ago.

"A lot of this hasn't seen the light of day for 100 years, and now it's exposed," said Smart, who serves as Hendrum's police chief and emergency services director.

About half of the near 80-acre field is barren now. The topsoil and a good bit of clay have been washed away by the nearly annual flooding along the Red River here since 1997.

One cut is about 14 inches deep. Smart figures it won't belong before the Elm finishes the job of carving a new channel through the field to the Red.

"These places were untouched by water for a century," he said.


Smart and other community leaders along the Red River north of Fargo-Moorhead are concerned about the potential effects of the proposed $1.25 billion F-M diversion project.

The Red River could crest up to another 17 inches higher at Halstad, Minn., just six miles north of here, in what have become all-too-common 100-year flood events, according to a draft environmental impact study and feasibility report released earlier this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A deadline for public comment is Aug. 9.

A group of officials from communities downstream of Fargo-Moorhead are lobbying for the Corps to extend that deadline, so it has more time to analyze the findings and respond.

The group also reasons that the downstream impacts north of Halstad have not been made public yet, so residents there have no information on which to comment.

Aaron Snyder, the Corps' F-M diversion project manager, said a report on downstream impacts between Halstad and Pembina, N.D., should be available sometime this week.

"The present review indicates that there could be significant social impacts, but not significant environmental impacts, downstream, to Halstad," Snyder said Friday.

The Corps' research indicates the downstream impacts would diminish as the river moves northward, according to Snyder. In other words, the impacts would be less dramatic at, say Oslo, Minn., or Drayton, N.D., than at Hendrum or Halstad, Minn.


"We generally do not think the information will change that dramatically," he said.

Locals say 17 inches is too much water, according to Diane Ista, Ada, Minn., and a member of the Red River Downstream Impact Work Group.

"Please slow this process down and put the horse in front of the cart," she said. "Build retention and complete a plan made of stone that will not be changed, to assure there will be zero downstream impacts."

The Norman County Commission adopted two resolutions earlier this month, one that petitions the Corps to extend the Aug. 9 deadline, and one that opposes the proposed F-M diversion project.

The downstream impact group has been lobbying for support from cities and counties throughout the northern valley. Several, including Polk County, have signed on. Grand Forks County will consider a similar resolution at its meeting Tuesday.

"Our concern in Halstad is that the minor floods become major floods, with the diversion," said Ron Gotteberg, city clerk-treasurer in Halstad, a Norman County community of about 600.

The Red River Watershed Management Board's technical advisory committee, in a recently published review, charged that the F-M diversion contradicts the RRWMB's holistic, basinwide goal of flood control, which includes upstream water retention.

"Without a clear vision of how the Fargo-Moorhead diversion will impact the entire Red River basin, including communities like Halstad, Ada, Warren, Hallock and others, the proposed process is incomplete," said RRWMB President John Finney.


According to the Metro Flood Study Work Group, the cost of mitigating downstream impacts is estimated at between $400 million and $1 billion.

"If we could spend the $1.2 or $1.3 billion on storage, we wouldn't need the Fargo-Moorhead diversion," said Curt Jacobson, Adam Minn., chairman of the Concerned Citizens of the Wild Rice Watershed District.

The cities of Hendrum and Perley, Minn., are planning levee raises in the next year, after record- or near-record flooding in 2009. Those projects are in the bidding process now. But local officials say those raises did not factor in the extra water from the F-M diversion, so they may not be enough.

"It's already a problem, and the increased velocity and volume of water is only going to amplify the problem, not just here, but all along the river," Smart said.

Snyder said the Corps' public comment period already has been extended once, from July 26 to Aug. 9.

While it's possible it could be extended again, he said it is not likely.

That's bad news for people such as Terry Guttormson. He lives and farms along the Red River west of Hendrum, just across the Red River from that old settlement of Quincy.

He's farmed the land since the 1980s and bought it in 1990 from descendants of the Canning family, who pioneered here in the late 1800s.


"They saw the two great floods of the late 1800s, and this land was high and dry," he said. "That's why they settled on this land. It was high enough."

Well, he said, it's not high enough anymore.

Guttormson built a small dike in 1997. He raised it this year, after the 2009 flood.

"The diversion will put an end to me," he said. "And it'll put an end to other farmsteads and small towns."

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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