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Published August 20 2012

Officials: $133 million needed to protect much of south Fargo to ideal level by 2017

FARGO – City engineers unveiled major plans Monday to complete $133 million worth of permanent flood protection projects by 2017.

Nearly 200 homes and five commercial properties would need to be bought out and removed to accommodate permanent levees and floodwalls that officials have proposed to fortify several vulnerable south Fargo neighborhoods, City Engineer April Walker said.

Fargo’s engineering staff has pinpointed nearly three-dozen priority-based projects they say would shore up Fargo’s internal flood protection in neighborhoods most affected by the new FEMA flood plain map, which city officials released earlier Monday.

The preliminary map puts 2,300 structures into the 100-year floodplain, but Walker said completing the various proposed projects could remove more than 1,500 of those structures from the map.

Last summer, Fargo commissioners set a goal of building up the city’s flood protection to 42.5 feet on the Fargo gauge. That height would shield against FEMA’s revised 100-year flood definition of 39.4 feet, plus 3 feet of cushion.

With such certified protection in place, land that was added into FEMA’s new preliminary flood plain map could be taken back out, and residents won’t have to pay such exorbitant insurance rates, Walker said.

Fargo Engineering Director Mark Bittner also emphasized that the local flood protection projects are necessary to complement and enhance the ongoing Red River diversion project.

“It’s not either/or; it’s both,” he said. “We can’t only build levees to get to the level we want to get at.”

FEMA’s revised map should be adopted next summer but the full impact of higher insurance rates won’t be felt until 2016, Walker said.

That gives city engineers a few years to shore up protection in the newly defined flood plain, a plan Fargo commissioners voiced support for Monday.

Fargo commissioners unanimously voted to allow city engineers to move forward with a few “immediate needs” projects that’ll be competed yet this year.

“We all feel pretty strongly that we need to address this issue in a timely fashion, as affordable as possible,” Commissioner Tim Mahoney said.

At a later meeting, commissioners will revisit whether to approve the full priority list of projects for 2013-2016.

The $133 million worth of proposed projects won’t be the end of Fargo’s flood protection efforts.

In all, it will cost $247 million to fully implement city leaders’ goal of 42.5 foot protection, Walker said.

“We don’t have $247 million to play with, so we had to look at how do we get the most bang for our buck, where is the greatest risk and where is the possibility to provide the most protection to the greatest amount of people,” Walker said.

In briefing city leaders on the proposed projects Monday, Walker stressed that the phase-by-phase plan is subject to review and the projects depend on available funding.

Fargo officials acknowledge buying out nearly 200 private properties will be a challenge, because “not all (offers) will be accepted,” Walker said.

“We know that,” she said. “At some point, eminent domain may become necessary to complete some of these projects.”

Fargo commissioners also unanimously approved Monday a voluntary acquisition policy that engineers will use “as a starting point” in offering future buyouts to residents.

The policy states immediate offers will be made based on 110 percent of the Assessment Department’s full appraised value for the property.

The policy also allots bought-out residents $5,000 for moving costs and a $15,000 credit on special assessments if they re-locate within Fargo.

Projects in the Rose Creek, Harwood Groves, Oakcreek and Coulees Crossing subdivisions carry a pricetag of $11.4 million for work that will be completed by the end of 2012.

Oakcreek and Coulees Crossing are among “the city’s toughest areas to protect during a flood fight with sandbag levees,” Fargo civil engineer Nathan Boerboom said in a memo to city leaders.

Officials want to buy out and remove seven homes in Oak Creek and three vacant lots in Coulee’s Crossing at a cost of $3.3 million, in preparation for a permanent levee that’ll be constructed in 2013.

Also this year, officials want to tackle the second phase of Rose Creek, where a mixture of emergency and permanent levees currently protects residents.

Engineers propose building $5.7 million worth of floodwalls and earthen levees as a permanent solution to the temporary levees that exist today.

The final “immediate” need engineers have designated is in the Harwood Groves Addition.

Officials want to buy out and remove three homes and button up a permanent levee in that neighborhood. The project will cost $2.4 million.

Phase one, to be done in 2013, has an estimated cost of $31.4 million.

Phase two, to be done in 2014, has an estimated cost of $30.3 million.

Phase three, to be done in 2015, has an estimated cost of $34.5 million.

Phase four will be done in 2016.

Once all four phases are complete, the city will have bought out 182 homes and five business properties, Walker said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541

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