About $2 million in improvements are necessary to turn the Federal Emergency Management's temporary housing site in southeast Minot into a permanent facility.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told county, area city, state and federal officials at a flood recovery meeting in Minot Thursday that he is working with FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make upgrades at Virgil Workman Village so that FEMA's temporary units have a long-term place to stay. About 500 households currently live in temporary units at the site.
FEMA has indicated that it will grant an extension of its temporary housing mission from December to next June. After June, the agency will make units available for free to nonprofit organizations or for sale to private individuals who qualify. FEMA is working to create a policy that sets up a sliding scale so the units are affordable to low-income households.
Jill Schramm/MDN • Sen. John Hoeven, standing, addresses city, state and federal officials gathered at a meeting in Minot Thursday to discuss flood recovery. Also shown, from left, are David Ashley of the Souris River Joint Board, Col. Michael Price of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Congressman Rick Berg and Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
Having a place to put the units becomes necessary for any organization or individual buyer to show interest, though.
"The issue that's going to come up is the affordable land," said Scott Chamberlain, individual assistance branch director for FEMA. "We can give them a unit at a reduced cost, but if they don't have some place to put it, that doesn't solve the housing issue."
Hoeven noted the Corps spent $24 million to install temporary infrastructure at Virgil Workman Village on 55th Street Southeast. Upgrading that infrastructure, including the sewage system, to make the site permanent would cost about $2 million, while dismantling the village would cost $15 million.
"Maybe there's an opportunity here to get some housing to people at less cost," Hoeven said.
The land on which the village sits is owned by Nathan Smith, who told the group Friday that he is willing to consider all options when it comes to the site's future.
Because the site was built to temporary standards, it doesn't meet city building regulations.
"We don't feel the project is complete because it hasn't been built to our standards. We have seven or eight pages of issues," said Dan Jonasson, Minot public works director. "If we take over a facility like this, then it becomes a burden on my department, and ultimately, the citizens of Minot who are going to have to pay to fix this."
Hoeven indicated he would work to ensure the Corps received the necessary authorization to do the upgrade. He urged a quick resolution so the Corps can do the work before winter.
Hoeven also pressed FEMA for resolution on flood plain issues that are standing in the way of Minot collecting Hazard Mitigation Grant Program money for home acquisitions and other flood protection measures.
FEMA recognizes Minot's flood plain as the river area that falls between the existing dikes, which were over-topped last summer. The dikes were built to handle a river flow of 5,000 cubic feet of water. Flooded homes and other property that fall outside the established flood plain are difficult to qualify for hazard mitigation funds. The city has been able to request funding for only three projects, largely associated with the water treatment plant, because other projects don't meet FEMA's rules.
The city and state want FEMA to acknowledge a river flow of 10,000 cfs and the higher water elevations and wider flood plain that come with that.
Jeanine Neipert, hazard mitigation assistance specialist, said FEMA cannot make that change without data to support it. The city and state have provided new hydrological data from Houston Engineering, and the firm expects to have additional information to FEMA next month to complete the hydrological information that the agency needs.
However, in addition to the hydrology or river flow data, FEMA needs hydraulic data to show the water elevation and that data must be mapped. Neipert estimated the extent of the work couldn't be completed before next summer. Minot's deadline to submit projects for hazard mitigation funding is Nov. 30 unless the state applies for and receives an extension.
Adj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk with the North Dakota Army National Guard suggested FEMA adopt an "advisory base flood elevation," which the agency has used previously in other states. It would give FEMA the ability to accept hydrological data as the basis for determining the flood plain while work continues on getting more extensive information.
The state's congressional delegation is scheduled to visit with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate after Labor Day. Hoeven said the delegation will raise the topic of using advisory data at that time.