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Published May 05, 2009, 11:46 AM

ND, Minn. officials consider flood protection

WASHINGTON (AP) — North Dakota and Minnesota officials pledged cooperation Tuesday to swiftly develop permanent flood protection in the Red River Basin where residents scrambled to stave off rising waters this spring. Congressional leaders from the two states, along with North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local leaders to plot strategy after community-wide sandbagging efforts helped save the cities of Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., in April.

By: KEN THOMAS, WDAY

WASHINGTON (AP) — North Dakota and Minnesota officials pledged cooperation Tuesday to swiftly develop permanent flood protection in the Red River Basin where residents scrambled to stave off rising waters this spring.

Congressional leaders from the two states, along with North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local leaders to plot strategy after community-wide sandbagging efforts helped save the cities of Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., in April.

"This is a matter that is going to require an approach for the whole basin," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

Officials said they need to act quickly to build on the interest in developing a broad plan to protect communities along the Red River and its tributaries. Any plan would need to be developed at the local level before the government can conduct feasibility studies and Congress can consider funding.

"Our honeymoon is going to be over here in six months and we need to have a plan," said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker.

Rivers swollen from melting snow overflowed in the spring, threatening communities in North Dakota and Minnesota. Fargo, which has a flood stage of 18 feet, survived two crests of the Red River — the first at a record 40.82 feet, the second at 34 feet. Residents also dealt with extensive flooding along the Sheyenne, Souris and James rivers.

During Tuesday's meeting, officials said they would push for the creation of a two-state authority to oversee long-term flood protection efforts in the Fargo-Moorhead region while urging the funding of projects currently in the pipeline. The communities also should examine potential water retention projects along the river, they said.

With the rivers affecting communities in two states, cooperation will be essential.

"We have to make sure that what I do in my community doesn't harm Fargo. And what Fargo does in their community doesn't harm us," Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said.

Cost estimates for a long-term solution are still unknown, but the lawmakers said they would examine how Fargo and Moorhead might share the local costs and determine the level of protection. The federal government typically provides 65 percent of the overall cost.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who leads a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds water projects, said the projects would need to come from a "bottoms up process," making local consensus critical.

"The issue is what kind of comprehensive plan can be agreed to," Dorgan said.

Hoeven and Pawlenty have urged the Army Corps of Engineers to finish a study of Red River flood protection earlier than December 2010. The corps is also due to release a preliminary flood control proposal this month that would look at a diversion project for the Red River in combination with levees.

The final cost could range from $800 million to $2 billion, but it would be limited to the area around Fargo and Moorhead, a small part of the 45,000-square-mile river basin.

Gen. Michael Walsh of the Army Corps of Engineers said the corps was "committed to hit some very tight timelines" to examine flood protection in the region. Another corps official said the states know how to work together.

"It's going to take a lot of cooperation — cooperation I witnessed from both states during the flood fight," Col. Jon Christensen said.

Pawlenty also said Minnesota lawmakers agreed to include $50 million for flood mitigation projects in a public works bill. The bill was being negotiated Tuesday afternoon.

"We are in good shape for the next phase of the state projects," he said.

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