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Metro leaders discuss flood control options

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FARGO - When it comes to getting permanent flood protection, Fargo-Moorhead area leaders can't expect to drag their heels and get federal funding, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said Wednesday.

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Walaker spoke out during a presentation in Moorhead by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on its early ideas of how to provide long-term protection from the flooding Red River and its tributaries.

He said the metro area has support in Washington now, but that can fade.

"We need to come up with a plan locally," Walaker said he was told by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. "If we can't come up with a plan, it's not gonna happen."

The corps has done preliminary work on two flood mitigation options:

* A $909 million Red River diversion that would run about 30 miles through Minnesota from the confluence of the Red and Wild Rice Rivers.

* A $625 million set of levees through Fargo and Moorhead that would include Fargo's $161 million Southside Flood Control Project.

Walaker was prompted to speak after Moorhead City Councilwoman Nancy Otto raised several questions about whether the Fargo project would work as advertised during floods like this spring's flood, which is being considered a once-in-125-years event.

"We need to move forward. We get asked the same questions each time," Walaker said.

He later said Moorhead city staff members have been part of the team that developed the Fargo plan, so Moorhead leaders should have any information they want readily available.

Otto said she wants the Corps of Engineers to verify that Fargo's project will work as advertised and not hurt Moorhead or other areas downstream.

"I think we need to have review, so we have a second entity that's saying 'OK, it won't negatively impact' " others, Otto said.

"I think it's a matter of we really want to work together, but I think all of us bear responsibility to make sure both communities are equally protected," she said.

Corps project co-manager Craig Evans said his agency cannot leave others at a disadvantage to help the F-M area.

"We're not intending to make anyone worse off" without compensating them, he said.

Moorhead Councilman Mark Hintermeyer was intrigued by the prospect of dropping flood levels using a diversion.

He said a diversion might not be "a silver bullet," but "take 5 feet off every single (flood) stage, that's a significant improvement through town. ... That seems to me to be money well spent."

Committing to continue to meet is a big plus, said Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral.

"There's a commitment that there needs to be a solution," he said, adding that Moorhead's questions are natural in big projects.

"It just means we have more education to do," Zavoral said.

"If we can't come to an agreement between our two cities, then there's something wrong someplace," Walaker said.

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