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Erik Burgess, Published March 17 2014

Moorhead's $18 million river corridor master plan ready for public review

MOORHEAD – An estimated $18 million master plan for Moorhead’s public space along the Red River is now up for public review.

City Council members got their first look Monday night at the river corridor master plan, which calls for expanded nature trails, pedestrian walkways, bike paths and more pedestrian bridges connecting Moorhead and Fargo.

One major question arose from the council’s discussion: How does the city fund such a large and expensive project?

Moorhead invests about $90,000 a year on river corridor maintenance. Several council members said the city must stay vigilant and not simply shelf the master plan, which attempts to prioritize projects that would enhance the riverside land that became public after hundreds of flood-related home buyouts.

Councilman Steve Gehrtz said spending $90,000 a year won’t chip away at the $18 million very quickly.

“In a thousand years, we’ll have this thing done. I don’t know if I’m going to live that long,” he said. “I think we have to be creative in how we fund that.”

Wade Kline, executive director of the Metropolitan Council of Governments, said there are myriad funding opportunities, including state and federal aid and grants. He said Grand Forks instituted a small monthly utility fee to help develop its greenway when permanent flood protection was in place.

Gehrtz said the city should consider bringing this issue to the voters via a referendum. Residents are proud of the city’s parks, he said.

“This is an opportunity for them to speak out and say, ‘Hey, I’m willing to put a couple bucks a month on my utility bill’ ” to help enhance the river corridor, Gehrtz said.

More than 60 projects are included in the plan, which covers Moorhead from Wall Street in the north to the Bluestem Center for the Arts in the south.

Work on the plan started in fall 2012, and has included several public input events, said Kristie Leshovsky, the city’s planning and zoning administrator.

The plan sets out priorities for the city in the near term (0-5 years), the long term (5-10 years) and a visionary period (10-plus years), Leshovsky said.

The master plan should be considered a vision, not necessarily a detailed list of specific projects, said City Manager Michael Redlinger.

“Think of this as a roadmap,” he told the council. “It is not an end in and of itself. It is a means to an end.”

High on the list of priorities has to be installing signs and developing policies to allow private riverside homeowners to create buffer zones between their land and public areas, Redlinger said.

Redlinger said finishing up flood control work remains Moorhead’s first priority.

The city is asking for $7.2 million from the state to wrap up nearly $100 million in flood protection work since the historic flood of 2009.

Redlinger said the “biggest limitation” to starting work on the river corridor this year is if there is no bonding bill from the Legislature.

The city has scheduled an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. April 15 at the Hjemkomst Center to discuss the master plan. City leaders will look to finalize and adopt the plan in May.

Additional information can be found at www.cityofmoorhead.com/river.

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