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Heidi Shaffer, Published May 27 2010

Oxbow priority in flood protection

Cass County officials will continue to look at alternative alignments to the proposed North Dakota diversion and additional projects to help communities outside of the channel’s benefit, leaders said Wednesday at the county’s last informational meeting.

Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhoff asked county leaders whether his city could be included in the diversion and if additional help will be provided if they are left out of the project’s scope.

Oxbow, which sits just south of where the proposed 36-mile long diversion cuts into the Red River, is a priority for the county, said County Engineer Keith Berndt.

Berndt said the county has asked the Army Corps of Engineers if it is feasible to move the diversion farther south to include Oxbow, but early examination indicates it may be too expensive.

The extension would require some redesigning and additional environmental assessments. And it’s estimated that every additional mile to the current proposal would cost an extra $30 million, Berndt said.

Including Oxbow would require that 1½ miles to 3 miles be added, he said.

Commission Chairman Darrell Vanyo said it’s something they will continue to examine in the coming months.

“It’s really high on our radar screen,” said Bonnie Johnson, county administrator. “While we probably don’t have great answers tonight, you can rest assured because we do have Oxbow on our mind.”

If the diversion channel stays as proposed, the county will look at additional projects, such as ring dikes and home buyouts, that could improve Oxbow’s flood protection, Berndt said.

Briarwood and Frontier are both located within the diversion, and mayors from those cities said the diversion is needed.

Mayors John Adams of Briarwood and Barry Wegner of Frontier said a countywide sales tax is their preferred method to pay for the project, but they are not opposed to special assessments.

County officials are weighing whether to use a half-cent sales tax, special assessments or a combination of the two to pay for the estimated $282 million local share of the $1.4 billion project.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511