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Moorhead considers flooding strategies

MOORHEAD - Water was barely off Moorhead's sandbags when City Engineer Bob Zimmerman approached the City Council about preparing for the next mammoth flood.

His plan, aggressive and potentially spendy, would include:

More than 20 new flood gates, at $20,000 to $50,000 a pop, to block the Red River from entering the city's storm sewer system.

At least 10 new lift stations.

Small, miscellaneous levees to protect public infrastructure. Some built during the flood may just stay where they are.

The flood gates, lift stations and other improvements being proposed would cost about $20 million and protect $1 billion worth of private property against floods of 41 to 42 feet.

All bets would be off if the city's first lines of defense - private sandbag dikes - fail, Zimmerman said.

"There is still a significant threat from water coming over dikes on private property," he said.

Neighborhood input

As the Red River rose to a record crest of 40.82 feet this past March, some Moorhead streets flooded when river water entered the storm sewer system.

Zimmerman said the proposed flood gates and lift stations should address much of that.

Besides those measures, Zimmerman advocated a study of two areas in Moorhead that could benefit from additional mitigation, including things such as permanent dikes and flood walls.

He said neighborhood meetings will be held before anything happens, possibly in June, to bring residents into the discussion.

"The first step of the process is probably going to be us meeting with those neighborhoods and just saying, 'We all know what we just went through. What would you envision to be a benefit for future flood fights?' '' Zimmerman said.

The answer, he added, could take several forms, including levees and flood walls.

"Or, it could take the form of: 'How do we better do temporary measures quicker?' "

Backup plan

Moorhead and Fargo are helping pay for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study that is reviewing possible large-scale projects to mitigate floods in the region.

Many possibilities are on the table, from dams to diversion structures.

A final report is expected from the corps sometime next year, but therein lies the rub.

"That corps study is 18 months or more away," Zimmerman said.

"If something should happen where we can't justify the corps project, we don't want to have lost

18-plus months, where we could be planning either better temporary protection measures, or long-term protection measures," he said.

Officials said some of the cost of the proposed Moorhead work could come from state and federal dollars expected to flow into the region following the flood, but nothing is earmarked yet.

"We've got to seek dollars wherever we can," said Moorhead council member Mark Hintermeyer.

Zimmerman said some residents are interested in building their own levees or flood walls, both of which require building permits.

Anyone looking to build a flood structure should contact the city engineering office.

"We are going to walk them through the process," Zimmerman said.