Families sell houses in Moorhead to make room for flood protection leveesby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Last March MPR reporter Dan Gunderson visited a family living in a flood damaged home on the banks of the Red River in Moorhead. The Landsem's were waiting for Congress to approve buyout funds.
They now have a new home as do dozens of other families in the Fargo-Moorhead area. All of them sold their homes to make room for new flood protection levees.
Moorhead, Minn. — A year ago Steve and Cheryl Landsem and their two sons were still living in a half demolished home. The lower level of their house just south of Moorhead along the Red River flooded in 2009. By the spring of 2010, they were still there waiting for Congress to approve the funds to buy their home.
"I watched enough C-SPAN that I think I have enough for the rest of my life," said Steve Landsem. "In the office it was kind of like fantasy football. Watching votes and stuff getting passed and stuff getting delayed."
Steve Landsem says they finally signed the deal and moved out of their flood damaged home at the end of September.
Dozens of Fargo-Moorhead residents made the same choice. Fargo has purchased 44 homes in the past two years. Moorhead bought 83 homes near the Red River.
Moorhead raised $8 million through special assessments and fees. The DNR Flood Mitigation Grant Program provided $26 million.
The Landsems said they will miss the wildlife along the river and the space for toys like snowmobiles. But Cheryl Landsem says she loves her new home, it's larger, closer to work and school and perhaps most importantly it's more than two miles from the river.
"I'm glad we're not out there this spring coming up because I don't think it's going to be pretty, again," said Cheryl Landsem
The Landsem's say next time there's a flood they'll be ready to help, but they hope to never again worry about floodwater reaching their home.
Moorhead city manager Michael Redlinger says many residents were willing to sell after fighting a record flood in 2009 and another big flood in 2010 convinced even more people to move away from the river.
Redlinger says the city was able to move quickly because of Department of Natural Resources flood mitigation funds.
"We've tried to communicate that we've got a window of opportunity here. We don't believe in five years, 10 years down the road we may have the same source of funds that we have today to acquire these properties," said Redlinger. "So I think it forced a seriousness in the conversation with a lot of our homeowners."
The city moved and recycled 28 homes, and demolished others.
New flood levees are in place where those homes stood.
Moorhead city engineer Bob Zimmerman says the record high 2009 flood forced the city to rethink it's flood protection, and move aggressively to make improvements.
"So in the past 15 or 16 months essentially we've committed $34 million," said Zimmerman. "That's unheard of at least around here, getting that much work done in that period of time."
Zimmerman says those improvements mean the city should need only about half as many sandbags for the next flood. That means for a flood similar to the record flood of 2009, the city would need about a million fewer sandbags. Zimmerman says at a cost of $2 or $3 per bag, that means the city will save millions just in reduced sandbag use.
He still has a list of about $15 million in flood improvements he hopes to finish in 2011 if Moorhead can get state funding.
Across the river in Fargo, Senior Engineer April Walker says home buyouts and new earthen levees should cut Fargo's sandbag needs in a major flood by about one third or about a million bags. Walker says Fargo has spent nearly $25 million on flood projects the past two years.
Fargo is paying for it's flood improvements through a local sales tax.
"We've done a lot to reduce the dependency on those emergency measures which is a real key for us," said Walker. "We are worried about volunteer fatigue so we have to armor ourselves the best we can in case we've tired out the population."
Fargo-Moorhead officials say they will never eliminate sandbags as a flood fighting tool unless they remove hundreds of homes along the river.
But every step they take to reduce the need for sandbag dikes gives the cities a better chance at winning the next flood fight.
- Morning Edition, 12/27/2010, 7:25 a.m.