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Fargo mayor speaks about flood-fighting efforts

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker spoke at the Kiwanis meeting Monday in the Speak Easy. As a video played segments on the 2009 Fargo-Moorhead flood, Walaker told about the community pulling together to fight the flood. (Brian Basham/DL-Online)

"My biggest problem is taking credit for all of this."

Those are the words of Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, passing along the praise for the flood recovery to those who were involved and helped, even those in Detroit Lakes.

"I have more friends in Minnesota than in North Dakota," he said with a laugh.

Walaker spoke Tuesday noon at the Detroit Lakes Kiwanis meeting about the Fargo-Moorhead flood efforts, what the future holds and putting aside politics for the good of the people.

Walaker, who first worked for the North Dakota Department of Transportation then for the city of Fargo as a civil engineer and in the public works department, was elected in 2006 and is serving his first term as mayor.

"I would have been a one-term mayor if I would have been wrong," he joked about accurately second-guessing the National Weather Service on the second crest of the Red River.

After the flood this spring, Walaker and all the "players" involved traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss what was needed for future flood protection. It was the first time they were all together in one room. He said they should have a plan in 2010.

Walaker said he thinks one of the key elements of flood control is Devils Lake.

"I have never seen the Sheyenne (River) as high as it is this year," he said.

"Basically, the Red River Valley is a bathtub and the Red River is the drain of the bathtub."

He said that U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson asked that Walaker come up with a comprehensive plan, but Walaker replied that there is not enough stimulus money to complete a comprehensive plan for flood control in the Valley.

Fargo has waited while other cities have received help (like Brown's Valley for example), and it's the Fargo-Moorhead area's turn now, he said.

"Mankind expects science to have all the answers for everything. We still practice medicine. Flood prediction is the same," he said.

Having the National Guard help during the flood was a relief, Walaker said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and city staff were "all dedicated," he said. "If you provide a goal, they just want to be involved.

"We need to be transparent in government. There's no need for secrets. We need to be out there, (which can also) stop the rumors before they are started."

During the flood, Walaker received one of the most important phone calls, too -- from President Barack Obama.

The call came while Walaker was driving in his vehicle from south Moorhead, "I pulled over because I didn't want to be driving," he said with a laugh.

He said Obama was "gracious" and made sure Walaker and the area was getting everything the federal government could give.

"I'm so disappointed when people want him to fail, because if he fails, we fail."

He added that people need to put politics aside for the sake of the people.