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Corps of Engineers collects flood fix ideas

FARGO -- Houses on stilts. A network of tunnels. Better water storage with "waffle" impoundments and restored wetlands.

Those are among the ideas that residents, agencies and advocacy groups have offered for taming the flood-prone Red River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will issue its own flood-control recommendations next month, is considering the comments in drafting an environmental im-pact statement for the project.

"This really sets the scope for all the alternatives that we'll consider for the Fargo-Moorhead project," Aaron Snyder, the corps' manager for the project, said Wednesday.

The corps is considering several possible solutions, all laid out in its 217-page summary of comments received in a series of public meetings and submitted in writing.

Corps officials are screening the alternatives, and plan to narrow the list to four or six of the most promising possibilities by Oct. 19, when it will present its findings to local leaders and in public meetings Oct. 20 and 21.

Many comments extol the idea of diverting extreme river flows through a channel that would bypass the metro area - an option with a preliminary price tag of $909 million.

Lots of people also urge a holistic, basinwide approach, recommending a mix of water retention ponds, levees, wetland restoration and land-use practices to minimize flooding.

One man even wrote to suggest burrowing a network of tunnels beneath Fargo-Moorhead.

The advantages of that approach: very small land and right-of-way acquisition, and soft soils to bore through.

"You ask for other solutions, well this is thinking outside the box!" wrote Bill Neuhauser of Detroit Lakes, Minn., in proposing 80,000 feet of tunnels, 30 feet in diameter. "We could call it the FM tube!"

A tunnel system might sound exotic, Neuhauser acknowledged, but flood-control tunnels are being used or proposed in cities including Cincinnati, Seattle and Bangkok, Thailand.

Neuhauser, an engineer, calculated that the tunnel system could handle roughly half the volume of water during the Red River's peak during the spring flood, when it crested at 40.82 feet.

One admitted drawback for a tunnel system, the same obstacle for a diversion, is cost. Neuhauser did not include an estimate.

In reply, a corps official said a tunnel system will be considered, noting a similar approach is deployed in San Antonio.

Among the many alternatives under review, in addition to levees, floodwalls and diversion channels:

Buyouts, relocations and demolitions of buildings in the flood plain.

Vertical construction of residential buildings, sort of houses on stilts, with the ground level used for "open space uses" and the upper floors for residence.

Flood storage, with retention ponds to augment Lake Traverse, Orwell Lake and Lake Ashtabula. However, an earlier, preliminary analysis found the cost-benefits likely would not qualify for federal participation, meaning state and local governments might have to carry those projects.

Rebuilding the Interstate 29 corridor to serve as an open viaduct during flooding.

Digging cut-off channels across meanders to reduce peak runoff to allow water a straighter route to move.

The National Wildlife Federation is urging wetland restoration and other alternatives to levees or channels for flood control.

The Environmental Protection Agency expressed concern that separate reviews for Fargo's proposed southside flood control project, and the corps' more comprehensive project, might overlook some environmental impacts, especially to river and wetland habitat.