From working traffic signals to "I'm Back" signs in front of formerly flooded homes, Minot is showing signs of recovery.
"It's no easy task recovering from a flood that caused more than $1 billion in damage," Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman said at a news conference held Monday to update the community on the recovery progress.
However, he added, "I felt we would come along quicker than some communities, and I think we have. I think we have come a long ways. Certainly when you are dealing with the public and all the different situations, I realize in many cases we are not moving fast enough, especially on the buyouts. I was hoping that we would be further along. I was really feeling that we would have some of the hazard mitigation funds in our hands so we could do the buyouts."
Not for long will this pedestrian bridge across the Souris River remain off its foundation and littered with flood debris. Bridge repair projects are to be bid this fall.
A Federal Emergency Management temporary housing unit sits behind a house undergoing flood repairs Monday. Fewer than 1,000 units remain of about 2,000 units once in place to accommodate flood evacuees.
With the assistance of state funds, the first round of voluntary buyouts should be complete before Jan. 1, said Cindy Hemphill, city finance director. The city sent out 107 purchase offers and expects to close on 82 and possibly 83 homes.
Another round of voluntary acquisitions of homes in the footprint of a flood protection plan will occur if the state provides funding.
Hemphill said the city must wait to see what the state Legislature decides. If a positive decision is made, the earliest the city might see any money is August 2013.
The city doesn't have complete figures on how many people living in Federal Emergency Management Agency temporary housing units are waiting for buyouts. Often residents can't make future plans because they continue to make mortgage payments on their damaged houses. An earlier survey of about 1,200 households in FEMA temporary housing units generated 600 responses and of those, 31 indicated that they are waiting for buyouts.
Just under 1,000 temporary housing units remain occupied at private sites and at group sites. That represents 963 households, including 351 renters and 612 homeowners.
"So 2,200 to 2,300 people are still looking for a permanent solution for housing after the flood," Zimbelman said.
He said the landowner who owns the land for Virgil Workman Village is considering allowing a mobile home park in the location so temporary housing units could remain long-term. He added that the city also is considering opening property north of the Northeast Bypass, north of the agricultural park, for a mobile home park.
"We need mobile home parks desperately here. I have talked to several that would like to come in and start a mobile home park but I am afraid that they can't do it at a cost that people could afford to live in it," Zimbelman said. If the city can invest in infrastructure to make setting up a park more affordable, the likelihood of getting another park increases, he said.
In other recovery news, the city reported:
Recovery groups have put more than $10 million back into the community.
FEMA and the Small Business Administration have given low-interest loans and grants totaling nearly $400 million.
Repair work on streets lights and intersection signals along federal-aid roads is essentially complete, with only minor tasks remaining. Those projects cost $651,000, with the city responsible for $214,700.
Clean up along the river was accomplished thanks to 700 volunteer hours by Minot Air Force Base's 91st Missile Security Forces.
Clean up of debris along the dead loops of the river is complete. The city's 25 percent cost share is $54,338.
Sanitary sewer, water lines and pump station work in design or under way totals $22.2 million.
Meanwhile, city staff and flood recovery consultants are making progress on details of programs in the city's $64.5 million Community Development Block Grant.
The CDBG program to rehab or reconstruct flood damaged property focuses first on the elderly and disabled living in FEMA units. More than 100 households have been identified.
Hemphill said 77 households filled out applications, and of those, 12 have received final approval and are scheduled for damage inspections.
"We are continuing to reach out to individuals that we believe are qualified based on the survey that we did," Hemphill said.
The program can provide up to $60,000 for rehabilitation and $150,000 for reconstruction for low- to moderate-income households. For information or applications, people can call 837-5813 or visit the disaster recovery office in Arrowhead Shopping Center.
The CDBG program does not allow for reimbursement for work already done. However, if people have started but not yet finished, the work remaining may be eligible.
Zimbelman said the largest recovery project, enhanced flood protection, could take 10 years or more to complete. The governor's budget will include money for engineering work in 2013, but Zimbelman said the Legislature still must give its approval.
"There are no guarantees at this point that funding is secured," he said.
The city council approved a flood plan that would protect the city to 27,400 cubic feet per second, which is the flood of record that occurred last year. Engineers currently are analyzing the cost of plans that protect to 10,000, 15,000 and 20,000 cfs. The analysis being conducted will only include changes in levee height, not in the footprint.
Zimbelman said the city has been told that it has the same flood protection level now as before the flood. He said that means the city can handle up to 9,000 cfs with its ability to raise dikes quickly and get better access to the river due to homes being removed with the buyouts.
The flood plain has not yet changed, although FEMA intends to make revisions. The flood plain is largely considered to be inside the river banks.
The city still advises people in the valley to carry flood insurance, and not just because the threat of another flood continues to exist.
City manager David Waind said once the new flood map is drafted, flood insurance premiums will increase. Currently, the cost is about $400 a year for $250,000 in coverage.
Waind said it is uncertain how much rates will increase but he has seen numbers three to four times higher for people who have the insurance and even higher for those who hadn't previously carried it.
"We think it's important that people understand that and that they do get the flood insurance," Waind said. "It would be wise for them to secure it while they can still get the preferable rate."