SAWYER-VELVA - Concerns about future flood protection trouble Sawyer and Velva residents as they wait on the federal government for levee and bridge improvements.
Congressman Rick Berg, R-N.D., visited with city officials Thursday to get a firsthand look at what needs continue to exist for the towns more than a year after narrowly escaping the severe flooding seen farther upstream last summer.
"More work needs to be done," Berg said. "There's a very strong desire and a concern that we need to protect our communities long-term."
Jill Schramm/MDN • Standing on the Velva dike Thursday, Congressman Rick Berg, center, gestures as he discusses future flood protection with, from left, Velva city commissioners Scott Blotter, JD Larson, Mayor Ken Fox and city engineer Nathan Chilson.
Velva Mayor Ken Fox told Berg that the city is anxious because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn't started construction to return its dike system to pre-flood condition. He said the Corps had indicated work would take six weeks, which now pushes completion into the fall.
The Corps reported Thursday that a contract for the work recently was awarded. Barring weather delays, the work could be completed by late September.
"The frustration for us is the Corps of Engineers keeps telling us you need to get this certified," said city engineer Nathan Chilson, referring to dike certification required for flood insurance purposes. "We are waiting on them. They are holding everything up here. I think they are moving forward. It's just slowly."
"In the meantime, it's extremely important to this community that we get this thing taken care of," city commissioner JD Larson said.
The city has until March 2013 to come into compliance for certification, according to the city. Once the Corps' repairs on the dike are done, the city will have other work, such as placing topsoil and seeding.
One known problem that could prevent certification is the lack of a 15-foot setback from the dike. Fox said the Federal Emergency Management Agency originally required that a 10-foot area remain clear of any plantings. The city discovered later that the distance should be 15 feet.
Berg said that resolving dike issues is critical if the city is to grow.
"If people are worried about the uncertainty of what's protected and not protected, you could miss out on an opportunity here," he said.
At Sawyer, residents would like the Corps and FEMA to support a bridge raise as part of future flood protection. A bridge on the north side of town closed last summer due to the raging Souris River, creating difficulties for area residents who had to travel many miles to cross the river. FEMA pays only for restoring infrastructure to its pre-flood condition.
Berg noted the bridge, like Velva's dike issue, must be addressed so that people have flood protection.
"How do we provide security and certainty that people can grow their town?" he said. "I am frustrated. This needs to be a lot quicker."
Sawyer also sought Berg's help in obtaining about $150,000 for flood-damaged roads. FEMA has determined the repairs are not eligible for assistance.
Velva wants Berg's help in working with federal officials on financial assistance for a $400,000 lagoon project. Erosion occurred at the lagoon during last summer's high river level.