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Wendy Reuer, Published January 23 2011

Oxbow bracing for ‘biggest flood’ yet

Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof says if his city wants to prove it should be protected by the Red River diversion, it will first have to successfully fight an expected flood this spring.

“The best thing we can do to protect our values is to beat this one. Without question, we have to beat this one,” says the leader of the city of about 200 people 15 miles south of Fargo.

When the National Weather Service announced last Tuesday a 20 to 25 percent chance the Red River will reach or exceed the record-breaking 2009 flood, Oxbow officials acted swiftly.

The city council passed an emergency declaration Wednesday night that will allow reimbursement from state and federal agencies.

The council then asked Oxbow residents to sign up for about four flood subcommittees. The committees will be organized and ready for action such as overseeing sandbagging and scheduling shifts to monitor the rising waters.

“We’re going to have a 2011 flood. I’m completely convinced it’s the biggest flood that we will ever deal with,” Nyhof said last week. “We have a lot of work to get done to beat it. I’m very confident we can beat it.”

The city also opposed the diversion as it stands now. The current preferred southern alignment of the diversion lands just north of the city, which Nyhof said would cause water to pool in his city. However, Nyhof said, the city’s actions to band together and retain counsel are not an effort to stop the diversion.

“The resolution wasn’t to stop any diversion plans. There is nothing better that can happen to Oxbow residents than a diversion. We just want to be included in it,” he said.

Buyouts thinned the city to about 120 homes after about 30 low-lying homes were bought out in recent years.

In fall 2010, the city hired Ernst Trenching to begin a $500,000 permanent flood protection project, of which the state agreed to pay for 60 percent and the Southeast Cass Water District chipped in $80,000.

Ernst Trenching President Keith Ernst said a permanent dike was finished in the fall, stretching from Schnell Drive north to U.S. Highway 81.

Ernst said the dike, built in one of the lowest areas of the city, will help protect the developed areas up to about a 42-foot river crest.

Ernst said a meeting this week with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and city officials will help clarify height details of temporary structures to be built once weather permits.

Work began on two more dikes, but the full project was halted until spring due to unfavorable weather.

“It would be a limited sandbagging effort if we could get all of the structures in place,” Nyhof said.

Like the rest of the Fargo-Moorhead area, 2011 marks the third flood fight for Oxbow in as many years. However, unlike the metro area, the National Weather Service did not have a probabilistic outlook measure for the Oxbow/Hickson area.

Greg Gust, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, said after a request was made last week by city officials, forecasters think they can help.

“So instead of just waiting for the water and forecasting three to five days how high it would get, we can use probabilistic outlook values much sooner,” Gust said.

Outlooks are routinely given for Fargo-Moorhead and Abercrombie, N.D., but Oxbow lies between the two areas, leaving the city to guess what level the Red would crest at there, Nyhof said.

Gust said he hopes to have an outlook available to Oxbow and Hickson residents by the end of this month or February, using a gauge near the Hickson bridge.

Last year, the National Weather Service set up meetings in 16 counties along the Red River, something Gust said he hopes to re-create this year.

“We just have to get out and talk to people, and sometimes it’s a little thing like that we can probably do, and it helps a lot,” Gust said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530