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Moorhead boosts flood defenses

MOORHEAD -- A major flood this spring wouldn't be a cakewalk in Moorhead, but projects completed since 2009 should make one easier to handle, officials say.

MOORHEAD -- A major flood this spring wouldn't be a cakewalk in Moorhead, but projects completed since 2009 should make one easier to handle, officials say.

The city built three miles of new dikes and floodwalls and raised the height of existing dikes.

The improvements were built to a height of 43.5 to 44 feet, providing protection in those areas to a river stage of 41.5 to 42 feet.

The 2009 flood reached a record 40.84 feet in Fargo-Moorhead.

Last year, the river reached 36.95 feet, the sixth-highest crest on record.


The latest flood forecast sees a 50 percent chance the river will reach 37.3 feet and a 10 percent chance it could reach 42.6 feet in the metro area.

Moorhead could not build its flood mitigation projects higher than it did because of things like riverbank instability and the presence of nearby structures.

Nonetheless, the work means much less effort and materials will have to be expended to fight future floods, according to City Engineer Bob Zimmerman and Assistant City Engineer Tom Trowbridge.

Moorhead has reduced its sandbag needs by one- third to one-half, depending on the neighborhoods involved.

Thanks to the work completed since 2009, some areas no longer have to sandbag at all, Trowbridge said.

Officials said no sandbags will be needed to protect public property, freeing up all sandbag resources for private homes.

If a crest of 40 feet or higher is predicted, Zimmerman said Moorhead will build clay dikes along the river corridor, placing them on city streets as close to the river as possible.

The city has already announced it will supply homeowners with filled sandbags this spring.


And if there is a flood fight this year, it will follow last year's model, which established eight zones around the city to enhance communication and resource allocation in individual neighborhoods.

Zimmerman said homeowners should not have to worry about figuring out their property's elevation this year.

"Our plan is similar to last year in that we will have survey crews going out and staking out critical elevations," he said.

Neighborhood zone meetings are planned for Feb. 22 and Feb. 24 at Moorhead's Courtyard by Marriott, with four zones being covered each night.

Trowbridge stressed homeowners should explore the need for flood insurance if there's any chance their property will flood.

He said insurance should be purchased by Feb. 15.

Trowbridge said the city will likely wait until a deterministic flood forecast is released before advising residents what height to build sandbag dikes, though the city will advise dikes be constructed 2 feet above the highest forecast.

Sandbag production will start in early March, according to City Manager Michael Redlinger, who said Moorhead expects it will need about 280,000 to start with, based on the current flood forecast.


That number would be closer to 500,000 without the improvements made since 2009, according to Redlinger.

He said the city is in the process of leasing a private facility to house its sandbagging operation.

Moorhead bought two "spider" machines last year that together can produce 15,000 to 20,000 sandbags per hour when adequately manned.

"One of the goals with acquiring that equipment was to be able to produce a larger number of bags in a shorter amount of time," Redlinger said.

If it appears clay dikes are needed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can construct them on very short notice, if it comes to that, Redlinger said.

"We know they can do it very quickly and if necessary we will do it," he added.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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