Pawlenty praises Moorhead flood recovery efforts

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday praised flood recovery efforts in the Moorhead area, but added there is "still a lot of work yet to be done" - and quickly.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, left, listens to Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland during a Thursday briefing on Moorhead's flood mitigation efforts. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday praised flood recovery efforts in the Moorhead area, but added there is "still a lot of work yet to be done" - and quickly.

Much of the governor's meeting with Moorhead and Clay County leaders at City Hall focused on what he dubbed the "big fix" - a permanent flood protection project for the metro area.

City Engineer Bob Zimmerman told Pawlenty that he prefers a Red River diversion over dikes. Mayor Mark Voxland added that he's hearing the same thing from residents, especially those who've struggled to maintain their own dikes.

The Army Corps of Engineers, whose study of flood protection options is due out in October, preliminarily estimated the cost of a 30-mile diversion around Moorhead at $909 million.

Corps officials have said a Fargo-side diversion could cost significantly more, having to cross four rivers and two interstates.


However, recent tests show soil conditions on the Minnesota side would limit a diversion's depth and require buying more farmland for a wider channel, thus driving up the overall cost to where it may not be more economical than a North Dakota diversion, Zimmerman said.

Lance Yohe of the Red River Basin Commission cautioned that a project protecting only Fargo-Moorhead may spoil the corps' cost-benefit analysis for other flood protection projects in the basin, such as upstream retention.

Pawlenty said flood protection "has to be looked at in a holistic or basinwide approach," and that the state shouldn't forget about the dozens of other towns with flood-control projects.

Corps officials said this week they hope to have a metro plan ready by mid-January so Congress can consider it for the Water Resources Development Act of 2010. If not, Fargo-Moorhead will have to wait at least another two years for the next water act.

Pawlenty said he's proud of cities, counties and townships for following an aggressive schedule and working well with North Dakota counterparts.

Both sides need to avoid the finger-pointing that has plagued planning efforts in the past, he said, adding that there's a "great spirit of cooperation" now.

Local officials briefed the governor on progress already being made:

* Earth moving is under way on a dike project to protect Oakport Township, said Greg Anderson, township board chairman.


* Clay County has included eight homes in its application for federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds, and another 48 owners have expressed interest in buyouts, County Administrator Vijay Sethi said.

* By the end of today, Moorhead will have closed on five properties out of a total of 115 whose owners have expressed interest in buyouts, City Manager Michael Redlinger said.

Some have questioned why Moorhead is pursuing $38.8 million in buyouts and infrastructure improvements before a corps project that could possibly save some properties is in place, Redlinger said.

"We feel there's just too much interim work that needs to be completed to protect the community between now and then," he said.

The timeline for permanent protection depends a lot on Congress, Pawlenty said. Some at Thursday's meeting mentioned a corps project being 10 to 15 years out, but the governor said he hopes it will happen sooner than that.

"That doesn't mean we trample people's rights or opportunity to be heard, but we need to do this as quickly as possible," he said.

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