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Heidi Shaffer, Published November 17 2010

Fargo examines flood plains

Fargo is looking at what new flood plain standards and floodway setbacks will mean for both future development and mitigation projects.

Fargo engineers met with city and planning commissions Tuesday to discuss what direction the city should take in future flood plain management.

One change commissioners will likely weigh in during the next few months is whether Fargo will adopt new Federal Emergency Management Agency flood plain standards before the map is officially adopted – likely still two years from now.

The preliminary federal flood plain standards would largely apply to Fargo’s new developments.

The existing FEMA map puts any structure at 38.3 feet in the 100-year flood plain, but the updated version raises that level by more than a foot to 39.5 feet.

Structures with federally backed mortgages located within the flood plain are required to carry flood insurance.

Today, the city follows the existing 100-year levels for building, but adopting the new standards would allow Fargo to regulate and implement the changes early, keeping new homes off the flood plain and without the need for flood insurance.

The city has been notifying developers of the new regulations, but since it’s not officially adopted by the city, it’s not easily regulated, City Engineer Mark Bittner said.

Properties that are not in the existing flood plain but would fall under the new 100-year level would not have to hold flood insurance until FEMA’s map becomes official, Senior Engineer April Walker said.

Fargo may also take a look at its river and drain setbacks in an effort to keep homes out of the floodway.

A flood plain is the area likely to take on water during major flooding, such as the 2009 event when the Red River crested at 40.8 feet.

The floodway consists of areas that flood during times of high water and sit closer to the river’s natural banks.

The city’s existing setback is 100 feet from the floodway. But engineers are looking at future setbacks similar to Cass County’s limit of 450 feet from the centerline of the river, Walker said.

Engineers are also recommending expanded right-of-ways along legal drains to allow room for levees and other flood protection measures.

Structures would have to be built 150 feet away from a drain under the new proposal.

No decisions were made Tuesday, but the City Commission is likely to vote on new flood plain policies by the end of the year, Bittner said.

“There’s no easy decisions,” Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said. “We’re trying to correct some of the mistakes of the past.”

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