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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published April 24 2010

Canada offers North Dakota advice

Permanent flood protection in Manitoba was controversial at first but has paid for itself 10 times over, a Canadian official said Friday.

Steve Ashton, Manitoba’s minister of infrastructure and transportation, was in Fargo Friday meeting with local leaders about flood protection.

A diversion and other flood protection measures that protect Winnipeg and Manitoba cost about $1 billion but have saved more than $10 billion in flood damages, Ashton said.

“There’s not anybody today who would say it wasn’t the best thing to ever happen in the province,” Ashton said of the Red River Floodway, which has protected the province for about 40 years.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said local leaders can learn from our neighbors to the north.

During the 2009 flood, while Fargo used 3 million sandbags, Winnipeg only needed a couple hundred thousand because of the permanent flood protection.

“Manitoba’s a model for us,” Walaker said.

Friday’s visit stemmed from a conversation between Walaker and Manitoba’s premier about how officials in the two areas could work together.

Fargo leaders have visited Winnipeg, and Ashton toured some of Fargo’s flood-prone areas on Friday. Ashton offered to share technical advice with Fargo officials.

One thing that’s been key in Manitoba is protecting areas outside of Winnipeg, including ring dikes for communities and properties between Pembina and Winnipeg, Ashton said.

“We don’t trade off Winnipeg versus other municipalities,” Ashton said.

On Sunday, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy will be in Fargo for a 5 p.m. meeting with local leaders at City Hall.

Darcy will eventually decide if the North Dakota diversion chosen as the locally preferred flood control option will continue to be considered.

Lance Yohe, executive director of the Red River Basin Commission, who also participated in Friday’s meeting, said he’s glad to see Manitoba and North Dakota officials working together.

“I’m excited about the dialog that’s going on, the opportunities that are there and the offers that are on the table,” Yohe said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590