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Grand Forks mulls plan to add height to dikes

GRAND FORKS - If flooding on the Red River were to exceed the height of Grand Forks' dikes, it could cost the city $4.15 million to raise the dikes another three feet, City Engineer Al Grasser told the City Council on Monday.

It'll cost another $3.75 million to clean up the extra clay and sandbags afterwards, he said, for a grand total of $7.9 million.

The city is preparing a plan to pay this hefty sum if it needed to, which would involve pulling cash from eight separate funds. The impact of such an action, though, would reverberate for years, delaying street projects and removing money set aside in case the city needed to add to the pension fund.

"The dollar amount is a consideration," said Council member Art Bakken. "But $8 million compared to the cost of what we'd lose isn't a lot of money."

Council member Eliot Glassheim said it'll cost each resident about $140 per person.

There is some hope that the federal government will help the city, but Grasser said the city might not want to wait for that to happen.

Finding the funds

"If you wait until the crisis is in your lap, (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) will go in and pick up the costs," Grasser said. But if the city were to wait until the last minute, it might not have enough time to raise the dikes before the river gets too high.

The odds of the river exceeding 60 feet is one in 50, which he said is not enough to trigger federal aid. The odds that would trigger aid, he said, is more like 50-50.

So, the city's strategy now is to be ready to pay for the project on its own and hope the feds will reimburse later, according to City Administrator Rick Duquette.

One big fund the city can rely on is the infrastructure fund where the city sets aside money for streets and sewers. There's $3.2 million the city could use but it would have to delay projects or pay with money from the federal economic stimulus package.

There's also $1.4 million in cash carryover, which is money the city budgeted but didn't end up using.

The rest of the money comes from a variety of other funds, some set aside for bumping up the pension fund in the future if needed, some for replacing equipment in the fire department.

Even with all that, the city would have to temporarily transfer another $1.5 million from various city-owned enterprises, such as waterworks and sewers.

Cost breakdowns

What Grand Forks would get for $7.9 million is what the city calls "full perimeter protection." That is, clay and sandbags will raise the height of the dikes across the entire north end of the city, crossing the freeway to do so, across the entire south end and along the river.

The city estimates it'll need 80,000 cubic yards of clay at a cost of $25 per cubic yard, 400,000 sand bags at a cost of $3 each and 30,000 cubic yard of crushed concrete at $20 per cubic yard. That's $2 million for the clay, $1.2 million for the sandbags and $600,000 for the crushed concrete.

These costs include the cost of delivering and installing the material.

Another $350,000 is for engineering fees and miscellaneous costs.

Removing the clay, sandbags and crushed concrete and repairing any damage to the dikes would cost $3.5 million. Debris cleanup would add another $250,000, though Grasser cautioned that's a very rough estimate he put in there to recognize that "if you have a major flood you have major debris cleanup."

When would the council have to decide to initiate the $7.9 million plan?

Duquette said city staff is still working on that with help from the National Weather Service and the Corps of Engineers. He said he'd call an emergency council meeting if necessary.