Cities ask state lawmakers for flood protection funding

BISMARCK—North Dakota cities struggling to pay for flood protection are asking state lawmakers for financial support.

In between legislative sessions, lawmakers are meeting to hear about water issues across the state. Representatives from Valley City, Lisbon and Fort Ransom were among those to appear before the legislative Water-Related Topics Overview Committee on Monday.

“The record amount of rainfall, snowfall and subsequent flooding have created dire situations in all three communities,” said Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City.

The cities are doing what they can to move forward with permanent flood protection, but none of them are in a position to cover the cost, he said. Valley City Mayor Bob Werkhoven said it’s time for state funding to be allocated.

“The river channel to the Sheyenne is simply not, at this point, large enough to accommodate anticipated flows,” he said. “And we don’t want to be another Minot. All three cities mentioned have run out of money due to the frequency of flooding during this wet cycle.”

The expense to protect Valley City and other flood-related costs in 2009 and 2011 reached $38 million, City Commissioner Matt Pedersen told state lawmakers.

Both the 2009 and 2011 spring floods mirrored the 500-year flood event modeling of approximately 21 feet, he said. If an emergency levee were to fail, the city could experience $217 million in residential, commercial and exempt property losses, he said.

“We were inches away from a Minot this summer,” Pedersen said, referring to the flooding along the Souris (Mouse) River that damaged 4,100 homes and resulted in the evacuation of one-fourth of Minot.

“We had significant rainfall. We almost flooded. We were inches away, so we need to invest in Valley City,” Pedersen told lawmakers.

Valley City’s immediate needs include $3.6 million for property buyouts, he said.

Fort Ransom Mayor James Thernes also asked state lawmakers for help. Three years of unprecedented flooding have taken a toll on the community and exhausted the city’s finances, he said.

“We find ourselves in desperate need of permanent flood control mitigation measures,” he said.

The city would like financial assistance for soils borings and testing, as well as a preliminary engineering feasibility study for the construction of permanent flood control.

Lisbon City Councilman Jerry Gemar said the costs to fight flooding are “getting too much for us to deal with financially,” and the city is losing people due to flooding concerns. The city needs help to move forward with flood protection, he said.

“Due to high costs of fighting the river, our city has depleted their funds and net worth to an extreme level,” he said in his testimony. “We are to the point (of) financial instability to where normal operations in our community are at risk.”

Sen. Tom Fischer, R-Fargo, said his committee is taking information from all of the entities and putting together a booklet of testimony to forward to the full Legislature to review during the special session in November.

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