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Dorgan brings in experts to gauge flood preparations

FARGO - With major flooding just weeks away in the Red River Valley, North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan brought together a swarm of experts Saturday in Fargo to gauge the preparations in place.

Dorgan, accompanied by Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Gov. John Hoeven, assured officials from Fargo and other communities that not only will resources be available to fight this flood, but money will be found for permanent flood protection.

"We have to steer this water through our communities and deliver it safely to Canada," Dorgan said. "And we'll do that using all the resources available at the federal, local and state levels."

"We can't prevent a flood at this point, but we sure can prepare for one," he said.

The National Weather Service predicts a 50 percent chance of the Red River hitting 38 feet in Fargo; Wahpeton, N.D., has a 90 percent chance of major flooding.

Fargo has "almost a certain chance of major flooding," said Scott Dummer, head of the NWS' North Central office. He said it appears now that Fargo has a 1 in 3 chance of flooding exceeding the 39.5 feet recorded in 1997.

Last week's blizzard pushed up the flood prediction and it may go higher still. NWS meteorologist Mark Frazier, head of the Grand Forks office, said another storm system has the potential to roll through March 23-25.

After six months of higher than normal precipitation and lower than normal temperatures, more rain or snow would be bad news, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

"The storm, once again, another shadow over our heads," he said.

Walaker also made a plea for funding for long-term flood protection.

"We do need flood control in Fargo," Walaker said, as he explained the difficulty of fighting floods in "the bottom of the bathtub."

Fargo is working through financing and final design and permitting hurdles with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other groups on its $161 million Southside Flood Control Project.

Hoeven said the flood fight will be "a team effort" by all levels of government.

He also declared in the packed City Commission chamber that the state is committed to providing $75 million for Fargo's southside project, with $45 million expected to be allocated this biennium, and $30 million in the next.

Fargo City Commissioner Tim Mahoney asked Dorgan and Pomeroy whether federal money might be available.

"You guys have some money coming for us? Is there more money to help us out to a permanent solution?" he asked. "The mayor is too polite," he added, earning laughs.

Dorgan said long-term flood solutions will get federal funding.

Dorgan said the Corps has $25 billion to spend on flood control measures over the next few years.

"I'm determined ... to be sure there's money for significant flood control" in Fargo, Dorgan said.

Hoeven and National Guard Maj. Gen. Sprynczynatyk said bulldozers, front-end loaders, trucks, pumps and water purifiers are prepositioned in Fargo and Grand Forks and that 750 Guard troops have volunteered to be readily available to fight floods.

Hoeven said the Devils Lake area, and the James and Souris river basins are also facing flooding.

Pomeroy said this flood fight "will be a major impetus to move forward on major" flood control funding.

Dorgan said he was impressed with the preparations that have been made.

"If you're going to fight a flood in this country, this would be the place to do it," Dorgan said. "There's a lot of fight here."

Dorgan, Pomeroy, Hoeven and other dignitaries held a similar meeting in Grand Forks, N.D., later in the day.