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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 17 2010

Fargo leaders urge volunteers to keep building up defenses

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker was upbeat Tuesday after a helicopter tour of the metro area’s flood trouble spots.

“Looks good out there. I’ve seen a lot worse,” he said.

“In reality, things look better than I anticipated,” he said, adding that the fields are probably 70 percent clear of snow.

“I thought that was a big improvement from what it was early in the week,” Walaker said.

But Walaker sticks by the city’s call for 2,000 to 3,000 volunteers on the sandbag lines today through Friday, to ensure Fargo can defend against a crest of 38 feet on the Red River, now expected Sunday.

“ ‘Get our defenses up’ is the word of the day,” City Commissioner Tim Mahoney said.

The effort got a boost Tuesday from 1,200 Fargo and West Fargo students making sandbags and building dikes.

Gov. John Hoeven and Walaker thanked the volunteers, particularly the area’s young people.

“They are doing a fantastic job,” Hoeven said.

Helping defend the city is the state National Guard.

Maj. Gen. Dave Sprynczynatyk, the Guard’s adjutant general, said 300 airmen and soldiers are working traffic control at 17 or 18 spots, guarding supplies for neighborhoods. Two-hundred Guard members are placing sandbags.

Walaker said the Red crested a foot lower than expected in Wahpeton, N.D., which is a good portent for Fargo.

“Are we optimistic that this is going to be the high? I think so,” Walaker said of the forecast for the Red to crest at 38 feet. “In fact, I think it will come in below 38 feet.”

The next three days will determine whether this flood fight is successful, Walaker said.

“If we can get everything accomplished by Friday night, I think we’re going to weather the storm.”

As of 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, the Red was at 28.96 feet, the National Weather Service reported.

Enterprise Director Bruce Grubb said the city should hit its goal of 1 million sandbags today. After that, sandbag-making will be halted and volunteers asked to head out to build dikes.

Mahoney said 250,000 sandbags will be in reserve to bolster weak spots or build levees higher.

The river channel north of Fargo’s wastewater treatment plant is free of ice for seven or eight miles, Walaker said. South of the city, the ice hasn’t broken up, but is rotten.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Forum editor Steven Wagner contributed to this article.