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Dave Olson, Published November 01 2010

Oakport Township dikes taking shape

The appearance of bulldozers and mountains of clay usually don’t bode well for Oakport Township.

But this fall, they are signs of good fortune for the flood-prone township that will become part of Moorhead in 2015.

The dirt and machinery are part of a dike project that, when completed next year, will protect approximately 350 homes to a river level of about 43.5 to 44 feet.

“It can’t happen soon enough,” said Dennis Lien, an Oakport resident since 1979.

Material for one dike takes up part of Lien’s backyard.

That doesn’t bother him. And neither does the $2,800 bill he was sent as part of the local share of the project’s cost.

“I don’t mind being assessed,” said Lien, who fought his share of major floods, including the epic ones in 1997 and 2009.

The earth-moving project involves two large ring dikes.

The bigger of the two is west of what is known as the coulee, a section of dry riverbed where the Red River used to flow.

That dike system is about 60 percent complete and includes the raising of two roadways, 70th Avenue North and Broadway North, to act as levees.

The smaller ring dike, located east of the coulee, is about 30 percent complete. Stretches of emergency dikes now in place and which will be made permanent in 2011 will help with any flood fight that occurs this coming spring, said Greg Anderson, chairman of the township board.

“We’re as protected as we can be for 2011,” said Anderson, adding that if they are necessary, emergency levees can be put up in about three days “with not nearly the effort we’ve gone through before.”

About $18 million has been spent on the project so far, and the total cost will likely top $20 million, Anderson said.

The bulk is being paid for with money from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Property owners inside the ring dikes will be assessed a cost based on the value of their homes.

When assessments were initially calculated several years ago, they were roughly 40 percent less than what homeowners ended up getting billed, which has some residents irked, Anderson said.

The jump in the assessment amounts was due to inflation and the state of Minnesota’s decision not to cover certain project costs, according to Anderson, who said his own assessment grew from $2,300 to $3,600.

Still, he considers it a bargain.

Anderson said the 2009 flood required digging up his yard and putting it back together again at a cost of $6,500.

“Most people are saying, ‘This (assessment) is cheap,’ ’’ Anderson said.

The dike project incorporates five large storm ponds.

One near the township’s water tower is 10 acres in size and 28 feet deep.

“If we were to get a 6-inch rain during a flood, we store all that water internally,” Anderson said.

If filled with rain water, the ponds will be drained by pumps, but not before the danger of flooding has passed.

“The goal is to not put any more water in the river until the river is under control,” Anderson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555