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Tracy Frank, Published March 12 2010

Walaker: ‘We’re going to protect ourselves’

If area leaders choose a Red River diversion option that doesn’t protect against a 500-year flood, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said the city may have to go forward with its own south- side flood mitigation plan.

“In my opinion, 20,000 cubic feet per second is a short-term process,” Walaker said. “If it comes to that, if all this fails, I’ll tell you what Fargo is going to do, we’re going to protect ourselves.”

Walaker said Fargo would implement its $160 million southside flood mitigation plan so the city can handle at least a 100-year flood. Fargo’s Southside Flood Control Project was designed to reduce overland flooding through a variety of measures including dikes and channels, Walaker said.

Walaker made the announcement during a state of the cities address sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Fargo Moorhead on Thursday.

A 20,000-cubic-feet-per-second diversion through Minnesota is seen as the plan that provides the greatest economic benefits to the nation at the lowest cost, according to a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The diversion is eligible for 65 percent federal funding if approved but would only protect against a 100-year flood event.

However, members of the Metro Flood Study Work Group are exploring larger diversion options in both Minnesota and North Dakota.

Either a larger Minnesota diversion or a North Dakota diversion would offer 500-year flood protection, but would cost significantly more, according to corps’ estimates.

Walaker said he doesn’t care which side of the river the diversion goes on, but it should be built to withstand a 500-year flood.

“If we had a 500-year event in Fargo-Moorhead today, very little in either city would be safe,” he said. “That’s the seriousness of this.”

Mayors from West Fargo, Moorhead and Dilworth also talked about flood control.

West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said his city has seen a lot of growth since building the Sheyenne River diversion.

“Once the diversion was built, then everything came out of the flood plain and things changed,” Mattern said. “To me, it just points out how critical it is that the region has some sort of diversion project.”

Dilworth Mayor Chad Olson supports a North Dakota diversion because it takes more land out of the flood plain and protects his city’s water source.

“We have to do this once, do this right, so we don’t ever have to do this again,” he said.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said his city last year “battled the water of the Red River and the red ink that was generated in St. Paul,” with cuts to local government aid.

Walaker stressed that Fargo cannot afford to pay for the North Dakota diversion alone.

“We can’t bankrupt the city of Fargo,” he said. “We have a $200 million sales tax, and we’re willing to extend that. We can probably come up with $250 million, but there’s a $700 million nut to crack.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526