F-M officials await crest with cautious optimism

City officials remained cautiously optimistic Monday that Fargo-Moorhead would ride out the Red River's crest with no major flood damage. By 8 p.m. Monday, the river had climbed to 36.04 feet - less than 11?2 feet below the projected crest of 37....

City officials remained cautiously optimistic Monday that Fargo-Moorhead would ride out the Red River's crest with no major flood damage.

By 8 p.m. Monday, the river had climbed to 36.04 feet - less than 11?2 feet below the projected crest of 37.5 feet tonight or early Wednesday.

Both cities finished temporary dikes Monday, and hundreds of volunteers tried to erect sandbag levees to 38.5 feet around threatened homes.

"Right now, we're still cautiously optimistic that we're ahead of everything," Fargo Public Works Director Dennis Walaker said.

The National Weather Service forecasted a 50 percent to 60 percent chance of rain Wednesday through Friday, but officials said the precipitation should only prolong the crest, not raise it.


The Fargo area is expected to receive about 1.2 inches of hit-and-miss rain during the next three days, meteorologist Vince Godon said.

"If that fell in a matter of an hour, then we'd be looking at some problems," he said.

Fargo offered help to 72 homeowners at risk of a 37.5-foot crest, Mayor Bruce Furness said.

Three homeowners found themselves on the wrong side of a clay dike built across a road near Oak Grove Lutheran School.

Furness said those homeowners refused buyouts after the 1997 flood and knew they would have to sandbag.

Ed Schmidt, who lives closest to Oak Grove Park and the encroaching river, used a sandbag as a stepstool Monday to peek over the manmade, 8-foot wooden levee behind his two-story house. About 3 feet of grass separated his sandbagged garage from the water.

Schmidt said the city rejected his two proposals for buying out his house. He fought off the river in 2001, and the 1997 flood is the only time the 87-year-old house has taken on water, he said.

Asked why he and his wife don't move to a less flood-prone home, Schmidt said they consider it the best lot in Fargo and wouldn't be able to find a buyer for the house.


"We don't want to necessarily deal with it, but we're happy with the house, we're happy with the location," he said.

The city is still trying to buy out seven homes in the Ridgewood area to make room for a fixed dike, Furness said. Those homes also would be on the wrong side of a temporary dike, but Furness said that probably won't be necessary.

Furness said Fargo is "twice as well prepared" as it was before the 1997 flood, thanks to flood mitigation efforts.

The most significant step was the buyout of about 100 homes in low-lying areas, City Engineer Mark Bittner said.

The city also added 15 permanent pumping stations, he said. Homes were raised and storm sewers expanded in new developments.

Still, Walaker stressed this is "a major flood" - one that could finish in the top three of the last 100 years. The record crest was 39.6 feet in 1997.

"In 1969, it was at 37.4 and this town was in panic. We've done a lot of things, but every foot you go up, it gets closer to being a concern," he said.

Sandbagging intensified in the Heritage Hills and Roundhill subdivisions as the Wild Rice River continued to spread out, he said.


Officials were surprised by the river's rapid rise.

"This one has been a very dramatic rise," Walaker said. "We have not seen a 5-foot increase (per day) for two or three days, ever."

Usually, the river rises at 31?2 feet per day before it crests, he said.

"It's hard to believe we've only been in this thing for three or four days," he said. "But things will improve, and we're optimistic at this time."

In Moorhead, monitoring the dikes is now the most important task, City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said.

Crews finished a levee Monday at Rivershore Drive and Dale Avenue and extended the Horn Park levee. Dikes will be monitored around the clock until the river recedes, he said.

By Monday afternoon, river water rose 2 feet up a sandbag dike protecting the walkout basement patio at the home of Victor and Eunice Schramm at 3211 Rivershore Drive.

Ralf Mehnert-Meland, one of several neighbors who pitched in to build the dike for the Schramms while they're in Florida, said he had never seen the river rise so fast.


"In '97, it took three weeks to do what this is doing in a week," he said.

Water covered Wall Street and surrounded six to eight homes in Oakport Township, Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said.

"The houses are still dry because they're high enough, but the only way they can get in to check on them is by boat," he said.

Bergquist asked boaters to use extreme caution and stay off the river unless necessary. Violators of the no-wake zone will be ticketed, he said.

Cass County, which started the flood season with 160,000 sandbags, bought 50,000 more and has about 75,000 left, County Commissioner Vern Bennett said. Rural residents were sandbagging along the Maple and Sheyenne rivers, in the Harwood area and between Fargo and Hickson.

"The word out in the county is it gets more hectic as the days go on," he said. "More and more people are calling for sandbagging."

(Mike Nowatzki writes for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper)

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