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Associated Press, Published March 22 2013

Cass County issues emergency declaration for flooding

FARGO — Commissioners in North Dakota's largest county approved an emergency declaration Friday to prepare for flooding, but not before expressing frustration about what could be the fourth major flood in five years.

Cass County Commission Chairman Vern Bennett opened the special meeting by wondering out loud how nice it would be if a proposed Red River diversion channel was in place. The nearly $2 billion project has been in the works for several years, but has yet to be approved by Congress.

"We would be basking in the sunshine and watching the snow melt," Bennett said.

The National Weather Service said Thursday that the Red River has a 50 percent chance of reaching 38 feet in Fargo, which would be the city's fifth highest-crest of all-time. The previous flood outlook, released on March 7, gave the river a 50 percent chance of cresting at just under 34 feet.

Dave Rogness, Cass County emergency manager, said his staff was "working feverishly to adjust our plans" after the 4-foot bump in the latest forecast. He said the county will open its emergency operations center on a limited basis on April 2 and increase its functions "as needs require."

Bennett said if the weather service numbers hold true, he expects "thousands and thousands of dollars" of damage in the county. The tricky part, Commissioner Darrell Vanyo said, is predicting what will happen along Red River tributaries in the county.

"Every major flood we have has a different twist to it," Vanyo said.

The county plans next week to begin filling 500,000 sandbags to help protect residents outside of Fargo's city limits. There also are plans to build a 1-mile long clay dike south of the city and supplement that with temporary floodwalls.

Residents in Fargo and Cass County had last year off from sandbagging after enduring three straight years of major flooding, beginning with a record Red River crest in 2009. Paul Laney, the county sheriff, started his presentation to the commission with, "Well, here we go again."

The sheriff said he plans to meet with his department heads Monday to begin planning.

"We got pretty well-versed over the three previous years of flooding, as far as our response," Laney said.

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.