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Erik Burgess, Published May 21 2013

Moorhead takes last stab at buyouts

MOORHEAD – When Mayor Mark Voxland went to bed Monday night, he was almost convinced that state funding for flood projects this year was dead in the water.

The Minnesota Legislature was still going strong the last day of the session, passing a slew of bills up until the midnight deadline.

When he woke up Tuesday morning, Voxland was surprised that one of those bills was a $177 million public works bonding bill that included $20 million for flood mitigation projects across the state, with a Moorhead priority.

“I’m really feeling great about it,” he said. “When we finished the council meeting (Monday night), there was no inkling that a bonding bill or any iteration of it would happen.”

Overall, Moorhead has spent an estimated $87 million to buy homes along the Red River and to build its floodwalls up to 42.5 feet. Of that, $30 million was local and $57 million came from the state.

The city this year requested $14.7 million from the state, which is needed to complete citywide protection. City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said since the bonding bill only included $20 million for statewide flood protection, “it’s pretty safe to say” the city won’t get all it requested.

Still, with whatever money it does receive, Zimmerman said the city will be able to extend one more buyout offer to 44 of the 87 homes left on the river. Those 44 homes have expressed continued interest in a buyout, he said.

“Now that we know money is going to be available, our No. 1 focus over the course of the next three to six months will be acquisition,” he said. “This will be the final round of acquisitions.”

Next year the city will ask the state for the remainder of the cash to finish up infrastructure projects, Zimmerman said.

Some projects are ongoing this year that don‘t require state funding, he said. Floodwalls and levees to be completed this year include work near the Moorhead Country Club along Ninth Street North, and other work in the south part of the city.

In 2014, final flood projects include storm water drainage improvements and buttoning up the levee system in the center of town, Zimmerman said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518