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Minn., N.D. Team Up, Clean Up Debris Left by Floods

Wed June 17, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Dorinda Anderson

This is the second part of a two-part series on flooding in the Red River Valley.

Spring flooding in the Red River Valley, which borders North Dakota and Minnesota, is not uncommon. Flooding occurs to a severe level about every 10 years where homes and infrastructure are threatened. This year, flood waters from the Red River, which run from south to north, damaged more than 100 homes in the city of Fargo, N.D., on the west side of the river, and many more in its sister city of Moorhead, on the east side of the river. The two communities, along with West Fargo, comprise a population of about 175,000.

Many other North Dakota communities, such as Jamestown, Valley City and Lisbon, experienced similar flooding from other rivers, such as the Sheyenne River and the James River.

A Culvert Jigsaw Puzzle

On North Dakota Highway 200a, on the north branch of the Elm River, two 12-ft. (3.7 m) diameter structural plate pipe culverts were damaged by ice, causing significant problems.

“We are just now working with the suppliers on how best to fix that. We think we can just replace the end of culverts but because of the size of the culverts, the repairs will be costly,” Bob Walton, Fargo Department of Transportation said. “Ice bent the ends down but water can still flow through the culverts and they are not causing water to back up, but we can’t leave it unfixed because if there are high flows it will cause a backup of water.”

The cost to repair the culverts is expected to be about $100,000 because the culverts have to be taken apart like a jigsaw puzzle and bolted back together. They also have to be tied into a concrete wall and slope protection will be needed so the culverts aren’t damaged again, Walton explained.

“All of that was in place before the damage occurred.”

Numerous other similar repairs at significantly lower costs are needed on state highways and county roads. For example, north of Lidgerwood, N.D., on Highway 18, a void behind an abutment was found behind a bridge. About 24 cu. yd. (18 cu m) of flowable fill concrete was pumped in to make the repair. The cost was about $3,000, which didn’t break the $5,000 threshold of the Emergency Relief program by the Federal Highway Department.

As the water goes down, the DOT will continue to watch and look for holes beside the roadways to determine if additional washouts have occurred. So far, all the bridges look good, though monitoring will continue around the piers. The DOT hopes to have repairs completed this summer.

Tallying Up the Damages

In Cass County on the North Dakota side of the Red River, the county in which Fargo sits, Keith Berndt of the Cass County Highway Department said, “There are 120 spots on county roads that need repairs and we’re still tallying up the damages.”

Some emergency repairs have been made but it is too early to do any permanent fixes.

“We will hire contractors for the majority of the work because it is beyond our capabilities. We also have been using contractors for some of the emergency repair work.”

On the Minnesota side of the Red River in Clay County, the county in which Moorhead sits, all rural areas were divided into five sections and five contractors were hired to make repairs, explained David Overbo, Clay County engineer.

“Most of the flooding we saw in the rural areas came from overland flooding from the Buffalo River and from snow melt.”

The area received more than 75 in. (190.5 cm) of snowfall during the season and a late winter snowstorm during late April left another foot or more of snow in the flooding areas.

During the peak of the flooding, more than 100 roads were closed and now 75 roads need repairs; some minimally with a new layer of gravel, and some with gravel and fill. More than 40 new culverts also were needed. As the repairs are made, the need for other culvert replacements is being found in areas that aren’t driven on often, such as in field entrances. Bulldozers, backhoes, front-end loaders and gravel trucks are necessary to make the repairs.

Costs for damages in Clay County could exceed $500,000. By mid-May about 90 percent of the work had been completed, but gravel still needed to be hauled and debris had to be picked up. Invoices for two of the five sections had been received at $93,000 and $113,000, but three others hadn’t been received yet. Everything over $1,000 will be covered by FEMA, according to Overbo.

Roads are being fixed to pre-flood condition.

Pawlenty Proposes

$17M Relief Package

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty presented a plan, along with local legislators, to create a $17 million relief package. About $9 million of the funds would help satisfy the local and state match for assistance provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to the State of Minnesota. FEMA reimburses 75 percent of the eligible costs associated with public infrastructure damage caused by the flooding; state and local communities are responsible for the remaining 25 percent.

Pawlenty will push for another $50 million in bonding money from the legislature to aid flood-control projects in the Red River Valley, such as building permanent levees. Emergency and permanent levees are not constructed the same. The emergency levees are not packed and sloped properly to withstand deterioration and rodents.

The Minnesota proposed relief package would include:

• $2.7 million for a Homeowner Quick Start program that offers forgivable, no-interest loans up to $30,000 per house in counties that have been declared a disaster area.

• $2.7 million to reconstruct and repair major trunk highways and bridges.

• $200,000 from the trunk highway fund for transportation infrastructure operation and maintenance related to the disaster.

• $500,000 to acquire easements from landowners to protect soil and water quality and for flood control efforts.

• $1 million to install, repair, or rehabilitate erosion and sediment control projects, including road and culvert washouts.

The proposal also includes $500,000 to the Red River Basin Commission to evaluate long-term solutions for the region in conjunction with state, local and federal officials and entities.

Plans for Permanent Protection

The communities of Fargo and Moorhead also are making plans for permanent flood protection when future floods occur. After the 1997 flood overflowed its banks and caused the entire city of Grand Forks, N.D., located on the northern end of the Red River to evacuate, permanent protection was constructed, which saved the city from any damage from this year’s floodwaters. Because of that flood, Grand Forks received $400 million for permanent flood protection from federal sources, according to the Corps. Fargo and Moorhead are looking at permanent protection that could carry an even higher price tag.

To help cover its share of the cost, Fargo is planning a special election on June 30 seeking approval of a half-cent sales tax that would start on Jan. 1, 2010, and extend for 20 years. The sales tax would raise $200 million to help pay for the cities’ portion of flood protection measures, including home buyouts, floodwalls, levees and river channels. CEG

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