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Published April 27 2013

Fargo finishing last touch of sandbagging, levees to be done Monday

FARGO – Volunteers and contractors hustled Saturday to complete the last of the sandbag and clay levees in Fargo as the National Weather Service held to a 37- to 39-foot crest prediction, despite the Red River at Wahpeton appearing to have topped out at more than a half-foot below its predicted crest.

“We were hopeful that they would lower our crest, but they didn’t,” Fargo City Engineer April Walker said as she helped volunteers toss some of the 16,000 sandbags to be laid in the Oakcreek neighborhood, the last in Fargo to receive sandbags.

Uncertainty over future temperatures and precipitation, as well as how quickly the snowmelt was infiltrating the ground, had the weather service offering crest ranges instead of a single crest figure at most river points.

The Red River at Fargo was at 26.16 feet as of 1:15 p.m. It’s still predicted to crest between 37 and 39 feet during the middle of next week, the weather service said. The hydrograph on the weather service’s website showed the river climbing to 38 feet by Wednesday and starting to drop Thursday.

The forecast also called for a 60 percent chance of rain showers and thunderstorms on Monday night and early Tuesday, with one-tenth to one-quarter of an inch expected, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms. There’s also a 30 percent chance of showers Tuesday.

In Wahpeton, upstream from the north-flowing Red River, the river appeared to be receding short of a predicted crest of 15 feet. After reaching 14.39 feet on Friday night, the river had dropped to 14.02 feet by 1:30 p.m. today. The weather service said “it remains to be seen whether this will be the absolute maximum.”

A 14.39-foot crest in Wahpeton would be the 16th-worst on record, just inches above major flood stage of 14 feet. A flood at the level isn’t expected to be a threat in Wahpeton or its border city, Breckenridge, Minn.

Friday’s crest forecast of 37 to 39 feet was the first official deterministic crest prediction for Fargo from the weather service, which earlier in the week forecast a crest of 38 to 40 feet.

Both forecasts were far below the weather service’s probability-based prediction April 16, which gave this spring’s flood a 40 percent chance of topping 2009’s record of 40.84 feet.

The lower predictions this week allowed Fargo to scale back flood-fighting efforts, laying only 100,000 sandbags after assembling 1.1 million new ones this year.

On Saturday, contractors were busy erecting a clay dike on Second Street North to protect the downtown area. The city planned to close the First Avenue North Bridge at 5 p.m. to make way for the levee, detouring traffic to the NP Avenue and Main Avenue bridges. The 12th Avenue North toll bridge was also expected to closed Saturday evening.

Fargo Fire Capt. Randy Weiss said he expects the city will “easily” meet its goal of having flood protection buttoned up by noon Monday.

Sandbagging in Oakcreek was expected to wrap up by this evening, bring the total number of homes sandbagged in the city to 134, officials said.

A CodeRed alert sent out to Oakcreek and surrounding neighborhoods didn’t draw as many sandbagging volunteers as hoped, and Walker said more were needed as of 1:30 p.m.

Clay levee construction will continue Sunday.

“Tomorrow’s a stand-down day for pretty much everybody but the earth movers,” Walker said.

After a record-long stretch without a 50-degree day, Saturday’s temperatures topped 60 degrees for the second straight day, hitting 70 degrees just before 2 p.m., which buoyed levee-building efforts.

“It’s coming along great,” Weiss said. “We couldn’t have better weather for doing this.”

Looking ahead to next week, Weiss said the city will continue to staff its emergency operations center.

“If the river does come up and start hitting sandbags, if there’s any breaches, things like that, we’ll be ready to roll on those at all times,” he said. “We’ll kind of just standby once the dike is up, see what the river’s going to do and be prepared for it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528