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Erik Burgess, Published December 06 2013

FEMA says grant can't be used for proposed Fargo floodwall

FARGO – If Fargo city commissioners want to build a proposed $53 million floodwall along Second Street, the federal government won’t pick up any of the bill.

City officials were hoping to use about $25 million of a Federal Emergency Management Agency hazard mitigation grant to pay for a portion of the downtown floodwall. Cities across the state could start applying for portions of the grant after 2011 flooding.

But FEMA officials recently told Fargo officials hazard mitigation money can’t be used on diversion-related flood control projects, City Engineer April Walker told The Forum on Friday.

“The bottom line is the $25 million can’t be used on the floodwall downtown,” Walker said, “but we are still working with FEMA to see if we can identify other eligible projects we can spend it on.”

Walker said the permanent floodwall is a “critical project” that will eliminate the frequent disruption of building expensive temporary dikes downtown during spring floods, so the city will look for other ways to pay for it.

“We’ll use the same sources of funding that we’re using for the diversion,” she said, which includes state money or the city’s flood sales tax.

Walker said when the city applied for the hazard mitigation grant, the fate of the diversion was more up in the air, and it wasn’t clear if the downtown floodwall would be a part of the project. Since then, the diversion has been altered to increase the Red River flows through town, requiring a Second Street dike, Walker said.

“So they (FEMA) said it’s not going to be eligible because it’s no longer a standalone project,” Walker said.

City officials have said they plan to go ahead with the floodwall regardless of whether the F-M diversion is eventually built. The $1.8 billion channel to divert floodwaters around the metro has been approved by both chambers of Congress, but its authorization must still make it through a conference committee. And most importantly, Congress hasn’t funded the project.

FEMA officials will be in Fargo next week to meet with city staff and discuss other ways the city could use the hazard mitigation money, Walker said. Typically, it is used to acquire and raze homes in the flood plain, but that’s not allowed if levees or floodwalls will be built where the homes once stood.

Since 2009, Cass County has used about $25 million in hazard mitigation funds to buy out homes and let the land return to natural flood plain, but Walker said Fargo doesn’t have many acquisitions planned that don’t involve building floodwalls or levees on the cleared property.

The entire Second Street floodwall will cost about $53 million and will extend from about Fourth Avenue North down to Dike East on the south side of Main Avenue.

The City Commission on Monday night will be discussing alignment options for the northern half of the floodwall, which will be in front of City Hall, City Administrator Pat Zavoral said.

That portion of the project, which Walker said will cost about $23 million to $25 million, will include shifting Second Street North to the west to make room for a floodwall on its east side.

The city hopes to use large portions of removable floodwalls on the northern half of the dike so that the project can work in tandem with the proposed new City Hall and possible pedestrian green space, creating a civic quad area that could spur private development.

Once the re-alignment of Second Street is set, the city can seek bids for relocating utilities underneath the road, Zavoral said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518