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Published June 05 2013

Study finds 2nd Street floodwall tunnel feasible but costly

FARGO – A study nearing completion on a floodwall to protect downtown Fargo from the Red River shows soil conditions would support adding a tunnel feature to the project, but at a cost of millions of dollars more than without it, a city engineer said Wednesday.

The proposed floodwall would spare the city from having to erect a clay dike on Second Street North near City Hall every time the river is expected to top 30 feet, or 12 feet above flood stage – a disruptive chore that has been almost a spring ritual in recent years, including this spring.

The floodwalls being proposed would protect to a river level of 45 feet, about 4 feet higher than 2009’s record crest of 40.84 feet.

In January, city commissioners approved spending $88,000 to study the possibility of shifting Second Street North to the west, lowering it and putting a mound of earth above it to create a tunnel between First and Fourth avenues as part of a floodwall project.

The tunnel option would provide green space for a variety of uses and create a connection to the river, said Nathan Boerboom, a division engineer for Fargo.

Soil tests by Houston Engineering, which is conducting the study, found that “the soil strengths would be there” to make the tunnel feasible, Boerboom said.

Houston’s rough construction estimate for the project with the tunnel option is $40 million, compared to $24 million without it, Boerboom said, stressing that the study is ongoing and the full report won’t be due until mid-June.

The $24 million estimate includes the costs of acquiring property for the project, whereas the $40 million estimate doesn’t, he said. Both options would likely require acquisition of the Sidestreet Grille and Pub and possibly the connected Howard Johnson Inn, he said.

“It’s a really rough ballpark that’s not accounting for all the costs,” he said of the $40 million estimate.

Fargo resident Tony Gehrig, a 2012 City Commission candidate who has been critical of the tunnel option and study, said the cost estimate confirms his view of the option as a “pet project” that’s unnecessary to meet the city’s flood protection goals.

“They’re going to spend at least double what they need to to have the same effect,” he said.

City and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials have said the cost of building the half-mile clay levee ranges from $100,000 to $250,000 in a given year, and dismantling it costs another $160,000.

The city is still waiting to hear whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency would cover 75 percent of the floodwall project. Boerboom said it’s unknown whether the tunnel feature would also be covered.

“We have not had those conversations with FEMA,” he said.

If FEMA funding falls through, the city has said it would seek to include the floodwall project in the proposed $1.8 billion diversion project.

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