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Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications Co., Published August 01 2010

Worries of flooding increase downstream

HENDRUM, Minn. – Mike Smart, Hendrum’s police chief and emergency services director, walked through a soybean field near the confluence of the Elm and Red rivers.

About half of the near 80-acre field is barren now. The topsoil and a good bit of clay have been washed away by the nearly annual flooding along the Red River here since 1997.

“These places were untouched by water for a century,” he said.

Smart and other community leaders along the Red River north of Fargo-Moorhead are concerned about the potential effects of the proposed $1.25 billion F-M diversion project.

The Red River could crest up to another 17 inches higher at Halstad, Minn., just six miles north of here, in what have become all-too-common 100-year flood events, according to a draft environmental impact study and feasibility report released earlier this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A deadline for public comment is Aug. 9.

A group of officials from communities downstream of Fargo-Moorhead are lobbying for the corps to extend that deadline so it has more time to analyze the findings and respond.

The group also reasons that the downstream impacts north of Halstad have not been made public yet, so residents there have no information on which to comment.

Aaron Snyder, the corps’ F-M diversion project manager, said a report on downstream impacts between Halstad and Pembina, N.D., should be available sometime this week.

“The present review indicates that there could be significant social impacts but not significant environmental impacts downstream to Halstad,” Snyder said Friday.

The corps’ research indicates the downstream impacts would diminish as the river moves northward, according to Snyder. In other words, the impacts would be less dramatic at Oslo, Minn., or Drayton, N.D., than at Hendrum or Halstad, Minn.

Locals say 17 inches is too much water, according to Diane Ista, Ada, Minn., a member of the Red River Downstream Impact Work Group.

“Without a clear vision of how the Fargo-Moorhead diversion will impact the entire Red River basin, including communities like Halstad, Ada, Warren, Hallock and others, the proposed process is incomplete,” said Red River Watershed Management Board President John Finney.

The cities of Hendrum and Perley, Minn., are planning levee raises in the next year, after record- or near-record flooding in 2009. Those projects are in the bidding process now. But local officials say those raises did not factor in the extra water from the F-M diversion, so they may not be enough.

Bonham is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald