Parks ponders new links options

In the Summer of Hope: 2012 report, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimate given for the total damage caused by the 2011 Souris River flood was about $650 million.

Recovery projects are ongoing all around the Minot area and will continue for quite some time. The effort of getting Souris Valley Golf Course back to its full 18 holes continues to lag, with adverse weather setting back deadlines. Already two instances of reflooding this year have caused further delays and just nine holes of 18 are being played two years after “the big one.”

Some staff within the Minot Parks District are concerned that the course might become a perennial water hazard, as the park board was informed in Monday’s monthly meeting. The culprit silt accumulation in the Souris River bed potentially making flooding a more regular occurrence. Talk once again turned to the possible need for relocation.

Asked if the conversation has been an ongoing one, parks director Ron Merritt replied, “Since the flood came. We were looking at it then.”

An initial estimate put repair costs around $2.3 million, and Merritt said the department has to wonder whether it would be worth the expense and investment, were it to happen all over again.

“Over time we came up with a different way to do it,” which he explained did not cost as much as first estimated. Although the work was dogged by delays, with some temporary measures “we were at least able to stay open,” albeit with the handicap of only nine holes.

“It’s possible to protect it to a certain extent,” said Merritt, with levees and some terraforming. But a major obstacle to making Souris Valley Golf Course more watertight is that the course is a “ponding area,” an open expanse of low-lying land preordained to absorb abnormally high water levels, taking pressure off the structural and drainage systems protecting the city itself.

“It was designed that way after the ’69 flood,” Merritt stated, experiencing floods afterward in 1972 and 1976. The course then had a bit of a blessed dry spell, going “almost 30 years without any major issues,” until the 2011 flood. After that overwhelming and costly experience, some reconsideration seemed prudent.

But shifting an 18-hole golf course is not a simple task. For one thing, “people love the golf course where it is.” The course is also an attraction for tourists. “We have people from Canada” that Merritt said they encounter at conventions. When they ask about Minot, “number one on their list is the zoo. Number two is the golf course.”

Souris Valley, much like any other activity or attraction that area residents can enjoy, gives Minot visitors something to do besides shopping. “Now that we have rooms here” at any of the new hotels that have been built in the area, Merritt believes that tourism, and with that demand for tee times, will only see a rise in the future.

There are more fiscal matters to consider as well. While it is difficult to put an estimate on, Merritt thought a new course might cost in the $5 million to $6 million range, a hefty sum in any economic situation. A partnership with developers might be an option. “We’re definitely open to the idea,” he said.

Not only the availability of land needs to be considered, but an ideal topography as well. More than just a leisurely afternoon outside, golf is a game where one’s skills are married to the terrain. “You look for certain features,” Merritt said, hills and views, in addition to the odd copse of trees to give each hole a bit of privacy. “A lot goes into it.”

Inasmuch as a relocation would be made to avoid the stuff, an availability of water is essential to a well-placed golf course. The greens and fairways remain so only with ample irrigation, with the preferred source being a renewable one like a stream or river. City water, Merritt said, is too expensive and a burden to the grid. If available, aquifers could be tapped, but not all water is good for the grass. Even a slight sodium content could spell disaster for the groundskeepers.

“There’re opportunities out there,” he added. Repairs to the course continue at full speed, and the outlook seems to be that 15 holes can soon be made available for public use. However it all plays through, on relocation Merritt said “we’re going to keep having that discussion.”