Millions of dollars in flood prevention assistance could be out of reach for Minot unless the city and state can get federal officials to look at the Souris River flood plain differently.
The city has been working with the state's congressional delegation to persuade the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund flood-related improvements through its Hazard Mitigation Program. Based on the extent of flood damage last year and the amount of federal spending on flood relief, the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services estimates more than $75 million will be available to the state through the program, mostly for use in the Minot area.
City finance director Cindy Hemphill said only a few projects appear to be eligible because of the way FEMA determines whether the benefits of spending money to reduce flood risk outweigh the cost of making those improvements.
Jill Schramm/MDN • Frequent flooding of the Sixth Street underpass, such as this incident in May 2010, indicate the need for storm sewer improvements and flood protection.
Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Congressman Rick Berg, R-N.D., recently held a conference call with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, asking the agency to re-evaluate its denial of federal support to some public infrastructure projects in Minot. The delegation cited new data collected by Houston Engineering, an engineering and consulting firm, on the new 100-year river flow level.
"Our goals remain twofold. To secure both the maximum support for the people of Minot and maximum flexibility to utilize that support. That message has been sent loud and clear to FEMA. We are cautiously optimistic that we will receive more favorable results due to the information found in the new report," the delegation said in a joint statement.
The engineering report takes a different view of what is in the flood plain, based on the 2011 event. The delegation sees that change as tilting the cost-benefit ratio to become more favorable to Minot's projects. For instance, buyouts are a priority for the city, but many of the homes are outside the current 100-year river flow level. A different look at those flow levels could impact whether the city gets funding for up to 48 homes that it has sought to qualify for hazard mitigation money.
The delegation has a progress update scheduled with Fugate in two weeks.
The Minot City Council's Finance and Improvements Committee Tuesday voted to recommend the council support four projects for hazard mitigation funding, of which three already have been submitted to the state Department of Emergency Services for review. Submitted projects involve flood protection efforts at the water treatment plant and emergency generators at sanitary sewer lift stations. The committee advanced the Sixth Street storm sewer lift station, but the project doesn't meet FEMA's cost-benefit requirements for submission.
Hemphill said the city also has been unsuccessful in qualifying improvements at the Carney and Burdick sewer lift stations for submission.
The effort required to try to find ways to meet that cost-benefit analysis has resulted in the city's consultant, Lake Agassiz, spending more time than expected at the task. The finance committee voted to recommend the council raise the contract cap with Lake Agassiz from $9,500 to $15,000. Lake Agassiz already has exceeded the $9,500 cap by $450. Contract payment is proposed to come from sales tax.
Even if FEMA does release hazard mitigation money to Minot, the local share on the three submitted projects is about $1.8 million, which is proposed to come from the storm sewer development fund, cash reserves and sales tax.
Total cost of the projects submitted are $22 million for the water treatment plant plus another $2 million for the plant communications system and $750,000 for the lift station generators. The Sixth Street project is estimated to cost $4.5 million.
Hemphill said that without hazard mitigation money, the city may have to bond for the improvements.
Overall, more than $500 million in federal support has been secured to date for flood relief in Minot, according to the congressional delegation.