The numbers surrounding recovery from Souris River flood of 2011 continue to be astounding. Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman added yet another hard-to-fathom figure Tuesday: Minot's unmet flood recovery needs are in the area of $1 billion.
That's right: $1 billion.
The estimate includes Minot's $543 portion of the $820 million flood protection plan. According to figures from Sen. John Hoeven's office, Minot and Ward County have received roughly $534.6 million in federal assistance so far, from a wide variety of programs including:
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2011 flood fight, $27 million
- Southern Mouse River Basin road repairs, estimated $49.8 million
- Infrastructure repairs, including schools, $67 million
- FEMA Individual Assistance, $89.8 million
- Small Business Administration disaster loans, $224 million
- Community Development Block Grants, $77 million
- Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (pending), estimated $80 million
- Economic Development Assistance -Disaster Recovery Grants (pending), unknown estimate
The total, excluding hazard mitigation grant, comes to $534.6 million. And yet Minot is still far short of what it needs to recover from the flood. We would expect that figure to grow as time goes on, and as the recovery process proceeds. It's impossible for Minot and other flooded cities like Burlington to recover quickly. It will take time, and it will be expensive. Burlington's unmet needs are estimated at $56 million.
The discussion of how much more financial help the area needs to recover can only be held in conjunction with an examinaiton of the size and scope of the flood protection plan. The current plan, which would protect the city to a level of 27,500 cubic feet per second, carries an estimated price tag of $820 million, with work taking as long as a decade to be completed. But if the project could be scaled back, say to 15,000 cfs, and combined with significant changes in river management, a new levee system and changes to Lake Darling, the price tag could drop to $660 million.
The problem lies with timing, and perhaps unreasonable expectations of when any flood protection project could be designed, funded and constructed. The city should not make any rushed decisions regarding its future safety, but the longer it takes to make a decision on the details of a protection plan and that plan's overall size, the higher the price is sure to rise. And that means Zimbelman's $1 billion figure for unmet needs could easily continue to climb.
The ultimate decision on a flood control project will shape this city's history forever. Minot's leaders must get it right, and that means it will take time.