Minn., N.D. governors call for permanent flood planby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
The governors of Minnesota and North Dakota met in Fargo this afternoon to call for permanent flood protection for Fargo-Moorhead.
Local, state and federal officials say it's time for a comprehensive flood protection plan in the Red River valley.
Those efforts have been stymied for decades by political disagreements.
Fargo, N.D. — The Red River Valley is a big place. It covers two states, two countries and hundreds of local governments.
North Dakota Governor John Hoeven said all of those people will need to set aside decades of disagreement to work for the common good.
"We're not going to get this done in this region of the Red River Valley if people don't come together," Hoeven said. "Just like they've come together in this flood fight. Come together and figure out how to do this. There's mutual benefit there if we can come together and figure out how to get this job done."
The job is a long-term flood control system for Fargo-Moorhead and other communities along the Red River. That would involve not only permanent levees, but dams to hold water back up stream.
Many of those projects have been talked about for decades, but have often fallen victim to disagreement.
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said politics has been the biggest barrier to flood protection, and politicians need to find the solution.
"This is the first time in 35 years we've got everybody in the same room working for the same goal," Walaker said. "In 1997, we coined the term Team Fargo because usually the flood fights are about your own communities. Maybe the theme right now should be Team Red River valley. If we all work for the same goal we have a chance for the first time in the history of the valley to resolve it."
Some local officials are calling for formation of a new governmental entity with powers to make basin-wide decisions about flood control and a drainage policy. They want that body to have the authority to also implement water quality regulations that cross state lines.
Neither governor would commit to that idea, but Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said if state and local governments can't work together, he would consider supporting a new Red River governing authority.
Pawlenty said Grand Forks and East Grand Forks are a good example of the benefits of flood protection. After the cities flooded in 1997, a massive levee system was constructed. This year's record flood caused only minor traffic disruptions there.
"I don't think you should have to get wiped out or severely damaged," Pawlenty said. "We should be able to plan ahead. Moving from the notion of just having emergency response to having permanent response."
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers is working on a flood control plan. It estimates the cost of permanent flood protection for Fargo-Moorhead at up to $1.4 billion dollars.
But Minnesota 7th District Congressman Collin Peterson said, if the region presents a plan that everyone supports, Congress will fund it.
"A billion dollars is not a big deal," Peterson said. "Unless you've got a trillion dollars you don't even count. The issue is for us to come together with a plan that's supported across the valley and does the job. We can't just build higher and higher dikes in Fargo-Moorhead and Grand Forks. We've got to get out and hold some of this water back."
Peterson said he's met with the Corp of Engineers and they're ready to get to work on many flood prevention projects in the Red River Valley.
Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger said it's encouraging to see state and federal leaders support flood control. Redlinger said local residents will also need to support the plan. He said there will be hard choices. Neighborhoods would be fundamentally changed and homes would need to be removed to build levees. But Redlinger said now is the time to have that discussion.
"I think people are ready for a change," Redlinger said. "They don't want to be back in those yards doing the same thing next year or the year after that.
"This is unprecedented and you just get the sense from people that they would be willing to consider those tough choices if they don't have to do this again," he said. "Because it's tough, it's tough on families and it's tough on neighborhoods."
Minnesota and North Dakota officials said they are planning a trip to Washington in the next couple of weeks to lobby for flood protection funding.
Reaching concensus on how to slow runoff from farm fields and where to build bigger levees is likely to take longer.
- All Things Considered, 04/03/2009, 4:50 p.m.