Partners await crucial funding to complete northwest Minnesota flood control project
The need for the project dates back to 2016, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency designated the east side of Newfolden, Minnesota, as lying within the 100-year floodplain
NEWFOLDEN, Minn. — Funding from the Minnesota Legislature to complete a flood control project on the Middle River to benefit the city of Newfolden is crucial to getting a significant portion of the Marshall County community on the east side of U.S. Highway 59 removed from the 100-year floodplain, proponents say.
According to Morteza Maher, administrator of the Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District in Warren, Minnesota, a flood hazard mitigation bill in the Minnesota Legislature, Senate File 1034, includes $6.5 million in community grant program funding for the $8.3 million project. The Red River Watershed Management Board, the Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District and the city of Newfolden would contribute the remaining local share.
The state funding is part of a proposed $73 million bonding, or public works, appropriation for a variety of flood damage-reduction projects in the Red River Basin. Funds would be administered through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ flood hazard mitigation program. Authors of the bill are Sens. Rob Kupec, DFL-Moorhead; and Jordan Rasmusson, R-Fergus Falls.
FEMA floodplain ruling
The need for the project dates back to 2016, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of a nationwide digital mapping initiative designated the east side of Newfolden — population 355 — as lying within the 100-year floodplain, which means the odds of the Middle River reaching the 100-year flood stage in a given year is 1 in 100. The designation affected 43 homes, along with a church, a park, an apartment building, multiple grain elevator structures and property zoned for future development, according to a project fact sheet, all on the east side of town.
Homes and businesses in high-risk flood areas with government-backed mortgages are required to have flood insurance. The financial impact can be substantial and have a negative impact on economic development and future growth, Maher said, but the city’s attempts to convince FEMA that the east side of Newfolden wasn’t in the 100-year floodplain were ultimately unsuccessful.
The scope of a project to remove the affected area from the 100-year floodplain was beyond the city’s capability, Maher said. That’s when the Watershed District got involved.
“(The city) reached out to us at the Watershed District office and asked us to join them to solve this problem,” Maher said.
The Watershed District accepted the city's request, Maher said, and hired HDR Engineering, a global company with a branch in Thief River Falls, to design the project.
The Watershed District also developed a project work team and held at least nine public meetings to gather local input, Maher said. There was some local reluctance initially, he said, but eventually, the planning team accepted the project alternative that now awaits funding from the Legislature.
About the project
The Newfolden Flood Prevention Project has two components. First, the Canadian Pacific Railway is replacing a series of culverts at a railroad crossing on the Middle River with a bridge to remove the bottleneck of water on the east side of town during flood events. CP is overseeing construction of the railroad bridge, Maher said, and that portion of the project is scheduled for completion in March.
The second component involves constructing a 396-acre impoundment about a mile north of Newfolden to temporarily store water during flood events and lessen the downstream impact of the higher flows the railroad bridge will accommodate. The site was chosen from among 11 potential locations because it meets all the design requirements and has support from adjacent landowners.
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The impoundment would keep overland flows from Judicial Ditch 21 out of Newfolden by temporarily storing water during flood events.
“We are introducing the same water that was flooding the east side of town to go downstream, which is the west side of town,” Maher said. “If we don’t have the impoundment in place, that can expose the west side to higher flows and potential of flooding. That’s something that we don’t want to happen.”
Funding is crucial
That’s where the need for timely funding from the Minnesota Legislature comes into play, Maher said. The project was part of a funding proposal during the 2022 legislative session that ultimately didn’t pass.
If the project is funded this session, work conceivably could begin late this year and be completed in 2024, Maher said. If it’s not funded, the cost of the project will only increase, he said, given the escalating pace of inflation.
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Because bonding sessions to fund public works projects in the Minnesota Legislature only happen every other year, the implications are even more significant, Maher said. As described in a story by Minnesota Public Radio, funding for public works legislation typically comes from money the state borrows by issuing bonds, which investors then purchase.
“If this project gets delayed due to funding again, there will be huge difficulty to secure a local match for such a project, as we cannot keep up with inflation,” he said. “The funding application to the state for this project in 2021 was approximately $4.5 million, and now it is $6.5 million.
“If we lose this opportunity this year, God knows when we can put the shovels in the ground on this project.”