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Heidi Shaffer, Published August 06 2010

Group to study downstream projects

The Metro Flood Study Work Group got a chance Thursday to digest the latest downstream impact numbers for the proposed North Dakota diversion and took a step toward helping those communities affected.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Craig Evans warned local officials to be careful while interpreting the new figures released Tuesday that put Red River levels near Climax, Minn., about 25 inches higher than without the diversion.

“There’s been some confusion about the numbers and what they mean,” Evans said.

Evans told members of the work group that the flood plain narrows in Climax and other communities to the north, so much of the additional water stays within the channel, causing the river to rise higher to squeeze through the area.

“You need to be very careful and look at the location you’re in and see what the effects are,” he said.

Downstream communities have largely rallied against the diversion, saying already flood-prone cities along the Red can’t handle any additional water.

“Just because it shows on a map that it’s going to flood that much further, that’s not always accurate,” Hendrum, Minn., Mayor Curt Johanssen said after the meeting. “When the corps came to Hendrum, every citizen said those were the most bogus maps … because it floods out much farther than what they were claiming this model shows.”

But Johanssen said the metro group took a “step forward” Thursday by unanimously voting to appoint the Red River Basin Commission to begin gathering information on what can be done to help downstream communities on current flood-protection projects.

“It’s good. We can get our comments in, but who says they’re going to listen to us,” Johannsen said.

The metro group hopes to use the Basin Commission’s findings as a basis for a downstream mitigation plan, the group’s co-chairman Kevin Campbell said.

The corps will continue to calculate downstream river elevations farther north until impacts are no longer seen, Evans said. The corps expects to have an impact model that extends to Drayton, N.D., by the first week in September, he said.

Additional damage downstream will be factored in to the economic analysis of the estimated $1.4 billion diversion, but Evans said he doesn’t expect the losses will significantly alter the projects economic benefit.

Evans also told the group Thursday that the corps will stick to the Aug. 9 deadline for comments on the draft feasibility study.

Downstream communities have argued the deadline doesn’t give them enough time to fully understand what impacts will be seen before the comment period closes, but Evans said the corps has disclosed all along that there would be downstream impacts.

Cass County Commission Chairman Darrell Vanyo said anyone downstream who wants to comment on the project can do so regardless of whether final downstream numbers are known.

“I don’t know what waiting for the exact, finite number … will change,” Vanyo said.

The Basin Commission will have its first report on downstream communities for the metro group at its Sept. 9 meeting, where members will also discuss a joint powers agreement, which will govern decision-making as the project progresses.

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