Corps participation sought for flood control project

Federal policy, rather than lack of funding, is the current kink in the plan for a Souris River Basin flood control project.

Representatives of the City of Minot and local water board officials met with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tuesday to discuss what needs to be done to move the project forward. They also toured a portion of the city planned for a first phase of flood control.

The Corps recently released a new policy affecting the 408 and 404 permits that are needed for the flood control project. The drafting and review of the new rules has been holding up Corps decisions regarding participation in the Souris River project.

“We would like to have the Corps as a partner,” acting city manager Cindy Hemphill said. She said the city has been working with the Corps since early June.

“We do have some support from our division for this if we can do new starts,” said Judy DesHarnais, deputy district engineer for project management with the Corps in St. Paul, Minn. “We think there’s potential, which is why we really would like to have this one move forward.”

A Senate bill allows the Corps to start a limited number of new projects, but a House bill allows none. Heitkamp said it is unlikely a final bill will pass before the November election.

The city indicated that if start-up funds are the federal issue, the city and state may be able to provide that.

The 2015 North Dakota Legislature will be asked to support more than $102.6 million in improvements with a 75 percent cost share, or nearly $70 million from a fund for water projects. The money would provide for rural ring dikes, removal of trapped water in the Towner area, improvements at J. Clark Salyer refuge and various bridge and road improvements. It includes $25 million in property acquisitions in Minot and $5 million for Ward County property acquisitions as well as $6.4 million for project engineering on a first phase of flood control in Minot and $5 million for engineering of improvements in Burlington.

Minot also has designated a half percent of sales tax for flood control, amounting to between $6 million and $7 million a year.

A preliminary design for an $823 million flood control project to protect the valley from Burlington to Velva includes a $530 million segment through Minot. The first phase for design in Minot includes the Maple Street diversion, North Forest Road, Napa Valley and Fourth Avenue floodwalls.

Mayor Chuck Barney said the city receives many phone calls from people who went through the 2011 flood and are concerned about future protection.

“The psychological impact on the community is still raw, and we need to address it,” he said. “We need to protect the citizens and their property and the whole basin.”

Ward County engineer Dana Larsen said people compare the slowness of the flood control project with the speed that other communities, such as Grand Forks, built their projects.

“We need everybody working together so we can start progressing on these things,” he told the Corps. “We do need to start making some progress, and we need your assistance to at least be approving it so we are not sitting here four years from now, talking about more study and approval processes.”

He noted that even small pieces of flood control are held up. Sawyer just needs a little levee improvement and bridge work. Yet they can’t move forward.

“They get tired about hearing about these roadblocks,” Larsen said.

Michael Bart, chief of engineering and construction with the Corps’ St. Paul office, said the Corps needs to address the Souris River project in keeping with a consistent national policy.

“I don’t make the national policy. I try to find a way to grease it through to get it done,” Bart said. “Our job is to try to implement it in an efficient and effective manner.”

However, he and DesHarnais said there may be opportunities for enhancing flood protection as part Minot’s effort to maintain its dikes to bring them up to Corps standards. If that avenue is pursued, it cannot interfere with the requirement that the city perform needed maintenance on the dikes as soon as possible, they said.

Heitkamp said it is important that issues with the Corps don’t hold up design work on the project.

“If we have to wait to do the planning, we may be delaying development of this project,” she said. “We have got to get to the point where you can make decisions so people can make choices as to what they are going to do with their properties and what that will mean long-term for them. That decision for them has been delayed, and it’s heart-breaking.”