Hoeven, Berg, Local Officials Hold Roundtable on Flood Preparations in Fargo

FARGO, N.D. – Sen. John Hoeven, Rep. Rick Berg, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern, Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof, and Cass County Commissioners Darrell Vanyo and Scott Wagner held a roundtable meeting in Fargo this morning to discuss Red River Valley flood protection efforts. Participating in the meeting were Cass County Administrator Bonnie Johnson and County Engineer, Keith Berndt; Fargo City Commissioner Tim Mahoney; Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral and City Engineer Mark Bittner; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Area Flood Engineer Tim Bertschi; and FEMA Region 8 Public Assistance Branch Chief Tom Bush. Sen. Kent Conrad’s Office was represented by Scott Stofferahn.

Hoeven, who has already spoken with FEMA and Corps officials in Washington to expedite flood preparations, said: “We’re here to make sure we’re doing all we can on the federal level to support you in your efforts. Clearly there’s a lot of snow here already, which creates concern, and we want to be very proactive in the planning effort.”

City and county officials gave Hoeven and the group a briefing on the flood preparation efforts they’re undertaking currently and that they’ve undertaken since the last major flood event in 2009, stressing the multi-year work that’s been done to reduce the need for sandbagging and other temporary measures. Fargo City Engineer Mark Bittner said the city is trying to reduce the amount of sandbagging by building more permanent levees, relocating homes, and preparing ground so that it’s suitable for other quickly deployed options, such as hesco barriers.

Similar longer term work has been done in the city of Oxbow and surrounding Cass County. Cass County Engineer Keith Berndt reported that the county had also built additional levees, raised roads and acquired about 80 residences, eliminating the need to protect them during a flood event. Oxbow Mayor said the city initiated permanent flood projects last year that are “60 to 70 percent” completed, including relocations of homes, and the city was working to advance both permanent and emergency flood preparation activities.

“What strikes me is how much work you’ve already done that is multi-year work, and that’s important,” Hoeven said. “On the federal side, we’ll work with the Corps and FEMA to keep the effort moving in a way that advances measures to protect the community not just this year, but on a longer-term basis as we work toward permanent protection.”

Army Corps of Engineers Area Flood Manager Tim Bertschi said the agency has been working with state emergency management officials and is starting to build staff in the state. He said every lake in the system is scheduled to be drawn down to reduce the potential of excessive runoff. Asked about the advanced measures, a program that would allow work prior to an actual melt, he said it requires a cost-benefit analysis, but that it could happen quickly once an emergency disaster declaration is issued.

“Advanced measures help the cities and counties do more to reduce impacts while we’re working on permanent flood protection,” Hoeven said. “We want to help maximize that effort.”

On the permanent flood protection project, Hoeven said he has talked to Corps officials, including General William T. Grisoli, Commander and Division Engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, on the question of east-west alignment.

“We want to make sure we’re doing all we can on the federal level to help support the local effort and keep permanent flood protection moving forward,” Hoeven said.