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Published March 21 2011

Oakport’s flood outlook optimistic

Two years ago, the basement of Robbie Norman’s Oakport Township home north of Moorhead flooded with sewer backup when a drain plug popped.

This year, Norman isn’t taking any chances. He’s installed a knife valve and a backflow preventer in his home to keep his remodeled basement dry.

He’s also encouraged by the slow, steady melt in his McCann’s Addition neighborhood, as well as infrastructure improvements made in the township.

“I think it will be a pretty easy battle this year,” he says. “I hope so, for everyone’s sake.”

Norman and many of the 1,800 residents of Oakport Township are heading into this year’s flood season with the best outlook they’ve had in a long time.

“Things are just moving along great here,” says Greg Anderson, the longtime chair for Oakport Township.

That’s partly because the community’s permanent dike project – which consists of two large ring dikes built to protect about 350 homes – is “60 to 70 percent done,” Anderson says.

And it’s partly because the Corps of Engineers has agreed to build temporary levees in places where the permanent dike hasn’t been completed yet. The corps contracted with a local firm, H&S Contracting, to begin construction on temporary levees today.

Anderson estimates it will take “48 hours of earth moving” to fill in the gaps between the permanent dikes.

This will be a significantly smaller project than last year, when Oakport had to rely completely on temporary, corps-built levees.

Some properties in the township – most notably homes in outlying areas and west of 11th Street – can’t be protected by dikes because of heavy tree growth and terrain. For those houses, Oakport has 300,000 sandbags on hand. Some residents already wanted to start sandbagging this past weekend – partly because news reports of the encroaching flood threat have made homeowners extra-vigilant, Anderson says.

Officials also are feeling better about the integrity of the township’s sewer system. Many homes, like the Normans’, were damaged by sewer backup in 2009. But a forced main system was installed last summer. “That will make a big difference for Oakport,” says Clay County Commissioner Kevin Campbell. “We shouldn’t see the extreme issues. Of course, we still recommend people using drain plugs in their basements.”

When completed, Oakport’s permanent flood-control project will include a West Dike and an East Dike. The West Dike will protect an area between Broadway Street North and what is known as “the coulee.” The East Dike will protect Brentwood and Rolyn Acres as well as the Odegard subdivision.

The permanent flood-control project also includes five storm ponds, some as large as 10 acres across and 28 feet deep. These ponds should hold excess snow­melt and rainfall until flood danger has passed.

The complete project will cost $22 million to $24 million, including buyouts for 50 flood-prone homes, An­der­son says.

The bulk of the project will be funded with money from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, although property owners inside the ring dikes also have been assessed a cost based on their property values.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525