Walaker predicts river to crest under 41 feet
As the region ramps up for major spring flooding, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said Thursday he'd be "shocked" if the Red River crested above 41 feet.
Though he downplayed the prediction - "predictions bother me," he said, citing the uncertainty in models - it marks the first time this year Walaker put a number on this spring's flood.
The projection rivals the record 2009 crest of 40.84 feet but falls short of the 42-foot mark officials are preparing for this year.
The statement came during a Thursday event sponsored by The Chamber. The event was a tale of four cities and four mayors, but this storyline - spring flooding - was too pressing to ignore.
Growth and balanced budgets were also important topics as the mayors of Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Dilworth convened in the region's annual "state of the cities" forum.
Walaker said he's not concerned with the relatively light snowfall the city has seen in recent days but is wary of the kind of rainfall that precipitated the 2009 flood.
He shared e-mails from constituents on the issue. One suggested "we all take some snow inside the house and melt it." Another asked if the city has plans in the event of a catastrophic failure.
"It is something to think about," Walaker said. "Hopefully, that time will be wasted."
He repeated earlier comments that he believes a proposed diversion has just a 40 percent chance of securing congressional funding and challenged critics who suggest the city will slacken its efforts to contain the river if a diversion is built,
"There was a critic of the diversion that said, 'As soon as the diversion goes in, they're going to tear down all that stuff,' " he said, referring to flood walls and barriers. "The hell we are. As far as I'm concerned, it's going to stay up there forever."
West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern offered assurances that an ongoing dispute between his city and the Army Corps of Engineers on the proposed Red River diversion is not a fight among West Fargo, Fargo and Moorhead.
"Can I just skip the part about the diversion?" Mattern quipped after opening his remarks with a review of West Fargo's growth.
"This is not anything to do actually with Moorhead or Fargo," he said of the dispute. "In my mind, this is just me speaking. There is an issue of trust with the Corps of Engineers." He said West Fargo doesn't feel the corps is listening to the city's concerns.
Those remarks came after West Fargo City Commissioner Mark Simmons suggested Monday that Fargo hasn't been supportive of West Fargo's concerns.
"Unfortunately, I don't know why Fargo hasn't been public on it, but like an old friend told me years ago, 'It is what it is,' I guess, and we'll move on," Simmons said Monday.
Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland, meanwhile, was more bullish than his counterparts on the prospects of a diversion, saying he believes the cities will "finish up our work on the diversion" this year and advance the project in congress in subsequent years.
Voxland said Moorhead's goal in recent years has been to fight flooding without outside help.
"We didn't want to see the National Guard," he said. "We didn't want to close businesses here in town. We didn't want to see college kids who paid good money to go to college here in our town get pulled out of school for a week to fill sandbags."
Voxland also repeated points he made earlier this week about the importance of state aid in local budgets, saying cuts to that aid would push a state problem down to local governments and throw the city budget out of whack.
Dilworth Mayor Chad Olson, the lone panelist not staring down a potential water disaster, offered to "divert" the group's attention with a rundown of Dilworth's prospects.
He said the city is "proud to be a partner" with its larger neighbors, emphasizing Dilworth's role as a residential haven in the area, and discussed the city's ongoing efforts to attract residents.
"We've gone as far as tax breaks, utility rebates, free trees, pool passes," he said. "One council member advocated for the mayor to mow the lawn the first summer you move to Dilworth."
In a twist on the generally straight-laced economic and policy overtones of the event, emcee Merrill Piepkorn, a Prairie Public Broadcasting personality, occasionally burst into song between speakers. At one point, the flooding discussion prompted him to break out a Johnny Cash riff, singing, "How high's the snowpack, Denny?"
Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502