FEMA workshop brings stakeholders together to talk flood protection funding

Jill Schramm/MDN Participants at a FEMA workshop on creative financing for flood control listen to a speaker Monday afternoon. The workshop continues through this morning.

Paying for a $1 billion Souris River flood control project could require some creative financing.

Representatives of the city, county and various other agencies are getting an opportunity this week to learn about government, private and philanthropic sources that can provide innovative ways to fund flood protection. A two-day workshop with the Federal Emergency Management Administration concludes this morning at the Minot Municipal Auditorium.

The workshop comes as the result of U.S. Sen. John Hoeven’s meeting with FEMA Administrator Brock Long in Minot last year. The senator secured a commitment from Long to work with his office and local officials to identify funding to construct flood protection for the remainder of the Minot region, beyond the four phases of the Army Corps’ current project.

“We have probably come close to hitting the limit of what the traditional funding sources can absorb,” said Nancy Dragani, deputy regional administrator with FEMA’s Denver office. “So how do we broaden the pool?”

Answering that question is part of the goal of the workshop, which is one of the first times FEMA has engaged in such a process, Dragani said.

“Everybody in the room has a piece of it,” she said, referring to a solution that will come from many parts of the puzzle fitting together.

“From our perspective, any funding source that’s identified is a potentially good idea,” said Ryan Ackerman, administrator for the Souris River Joint Board, sponsor of the Mouse River Enhanced Flood Protection Project.

“We need to do our due diligence, to evaluate any and all funding opportunities,” he said. “What’s really valuable about this is it gets different agencies together, talking about programs and synergies between them.”

It creates possibilities for leveraging more dollars, he said.

The flood project has dollars through state appropriations and Minot city sales tax to fund the first four phases of flood protection in Minot.

“We are casting our gaze down the road, potentially four to six years. We have to identify the funding sources now for those projects so we are not in a situation where we have the project designed and no money,” Ackerman said.

“Our communities in the Minot region need the certainty of comprehensive flood protection,” Hoeven said in a prepared statement. “I appreciate FEMA for following through on their commitment to help find funding to build flood protection for the entire region. This week’s workshop is a vital part of that effort, and we look forward to continuing to work with all involved to secure the funding opportunities they identify and move forward on the flood protection for the Souris River Basin.”

Hoeven said he has helped secure the state’s priorities in the Senate’s Fiscal Year 2018 funding legislation and is continuing his efforts to include them in a future appropriations package.

Those priorities include $400,000 for the Corps’ feasibility study in the Souris River Basin. The study is a vital step in advancing the first four phases of the Minot area’s flood protection project. They also include a provision directing the Corps to expedite processing of Section 408 packages, which are used to make changes to existing Corps projects, and find alternative ways to approve project modifications. Last month, the Corps had completed the Section 408 review for the Minot region.