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Deanne Criswell, Published October 08 2011

FEMA housing for Minot moves forward despite bumps in road

Just like the residents of Minot, N.D., and the Souris Valley, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is eager to get all of those affected by this year’s floods into suitable housing and have the temporary group neighborhoods up and running.

And just like those waiting to move into housing units on these sites, FEMA would like the homes to be available as soon as possible. But it’s no small task. And with winter looming, the job must be done right in order to ensure the residents’ safety and comfort during those frigid months.

The first such site, Virgil Workman Village, currently rising on the southeast side of Minot on a site overlooking the Souris River Valley, will eventually number 600 homes. Work commenced at the site the second week of August. In other words, a community with a population the size of Garrison is being built from scratch in less than two months.

Building that community requires vast infrastructure: underground water, power, sewage and telephone; paved roads and parking places; green spaces and mail boxes; bus shelters and signage. All these details must be addressed to support the hundreds of two- and three-bedroom homes in which Minot and Ward County residents will live until their permanent housing needs are met.

Another challenge – one that many North Dakota businesspeople can relate to – is securing skilled labor in a market that has among the nation’s lowest unemployment. FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – which is managing the construction project – have faced many of the same challenges that area homeowners have in finding contractors.

But the large housing sites are only part of the housing story. More than 600 families are already living in temporary homes on private sites in flood-impacted neighborhoods in Minot and Ward County – a number equal to that of the large site and one that can’t be ignored. Families have been moving into FEMA temporary housing units on private sites since July 28 – just nine days after the water receded.

Meanwhile, an additional 585 temporary housing units have arrived in the area. Parked at staging sites in Velva and at the State Fairgrounds, the units are waiting for housing placement pads to be completed at Virgil Workman Village and two other temporary neighborhoods. Once they are relocated to the pads, families will be able to move in within days.

Again, FEMA’s goal is to make this happen as quickly as possible, but those pads must be completely safe and secure for that to happen. There are no shortcuts when it comes to building a community of this size in such a short time.

Criswell is federal coordinating officer for FEMA. She wrote this with Dolph Diemont, federal disaster recovery coordinator.