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Dave Olson, Published April 24 2013

Moorhead, Oakport residents weigh need for dikes

MOORHEAD – As flood forecasters continue to refine their educated guesses as to how bad the flood will be this year, all appears quiet on the Eastern front.

The Eastern front being Oakport Township and the city of Moorhead on the east side of the Red River, both of which undertook major flood protection projects after the record flood in 2009.

In Oakport, just north of Moorhead, the building of new levees has reduced the number of at-risk homes from about 600 in 2009 to about 30.

Many homeowners in Oakport are waiting until this weekend and updated flood forecasts before deciding whether to build sandbag dikes, said Jeff Schaumann, chairman of the township board.

National Weather Service officials have said, based on the latest forecasts, the Red River could reach a stage of 38 feet to 40 feet. However, a change in melt rates or heavy precipitation could change that picture.

The river reached 40.84 feet in 2009.

Schaumann said if it appears the Red River is going to reach 39 feet, it will take Oakport a few hours to put in place the necessary protections.

If it appears the river could reach 41 feet, Schaumann said, it may take a day or two to construct small clay dikes to button up most of the community.

The scene is similar in Moorhead, where the city purchased about 214 properties after the 2009 flood and covered much of that ground with permanent levees.

Today, seven homeowners would be threatened by a river level of 38 feet.

At 39 feet, perhaps a dozen homes would be at risk.

Above 39 feet, the city would construct a few clay dikes, but for the most part, the flood risk to Moorhead is nowhere near what it was in 2009, said Michael Redlinger, Moorhead’s city manager.

As in Oakport, many Moorhead residents living near the river are waiting for Friday or Saturday before deciding whether to build sandbag dikes, according to Redlinger.

“Many (of the homes) are at 39 or 40 feet,” Redlinger said, adding that only a few homeowners have requested sandbags so far.

He said homeowners who do need bags should contact their zone leaders to arrange delivery and to ask for volunteers to help place bags.

He said much of the city’s latest flood preparation information can be found on the city’s flood website at www.cityofmoorhead.


Moorhead placed about 2.5 million sandbags in 2009.

It currently has about 400,000 filled sandbags in storage, and Redlinger said 375,000 of those bags would be enough to protect Moorhead to a river stage of 41 feet with 2 feet of freeboard.

That number will drop in the future as Moorhead pursues a final round of home buyouts and finishes up the last of its planned flood protection projects, Redlinger said.

As of Wednesday, few in Moorhead had asked the city for sandbags.

Billy Iverson, who lives at 811 Elm St. S., in Moorhead, was among them.

The dike in Iverson’s backyard was completed Tuesday with the help of friends and passersby who pitched in to place about 2,500 sandbags.

“Without the sandbags, we’re safe to 38 feet,” Iverson said, adding that the dike probably would guard against a flood stage of 39 feet to 39.5 feet.

He said they built the dike with a broad base, so additional bags can be placed without a problem.

Although weather conditions are prompting some to wonder whether the flooding will get bad this year, Iverson said he doesn’t feel like he jumped the gun.

“If it (the forecast) is downgraded to the point where we wouldn’t have had to lay a bag, great. We were prepared,” he said.

Moorhead sandbagging

The majority of sandbagging in Moorhead is expected to happen Friday through Sunday. Churches, service clubs, youth organizations and employee groups are encouraged by the city to organize teams of 10 or more who can assist homeowners in building levees.

To register a volunteer group, call (218) 299-5107, or email mhdvol@cityof


Flood updates for Moorhead can be found online at www.cityof


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555