#5: Flood protection inches forward in 2017

Flood project advances with low bids, state money and redirected sales tax

City Public Works employees practice erecting the floodwall closure across 16th Street near the water treatment plant in July. Jill Schramm/MDN

Construction bids that were lower than expected on the initial phases of flood control in Minot could help to speed the completion of flood protection in the Souris River Basin.

Favorable bids were among good news about flood protection that developed during 2017. On Dec. 4, Minot City Council accepted bids that were 17 percent below cost estimates on the first three phases of work in Minot.

The North Dakota Legislature approved an appropriation in April that provides $193 million for the Minot portion of the project over the next eight years. The Souris River Joint Board plans to break ground in the spring on construction costing about $99 million, which is about $20.5 million less than projected.

Ryan Ackerman, SRJB administrator, said the State Water Commission has approved using some of the savings to assist Minot with property acquisitions for the flood protection project. At a meeting Dec. 8, the commission released about $2.3 million to the city, which represents the state’s 65 percent cost-share on the $3.56 million saved on phases I and II of the project.

That still leaves about $11 million in state money saved. Ackerman said stakeholders will be discussing in the coming year how to use those saved dollars to continue to advance the project.

Additional money could be used for property acquisitions in Minot, which has a need for additional dollars to continue buyouts. The city had purchased 101 properties this year as of Dec. 13, spending nearly $25 million.

Some saved state dollars also could be re-directed to flood protection in Burlington or to the rural reaches, in which case the spending would not count against the $193 million allocated to Minot.

“There’s a need for acquisitions but there’s also a need to advance some of these projects that are already in design,” Ackerman said. “The bidding environment is fantastic right now. We should try to get as many of these projects out to bid while we can realize some savings.”

The first phase of the nearly $1 billion Mouse River Enhanced Flood Protection Project will be built by Park Construction. The Fourth Avenue Floodwall Project includes levees, floodwalls, a major pump station and a pedestrian opening to the river. It spans from just west of Broadway to the east side of Third Street Northeast, on the north side of the river, covering about six blocks of flood protection.

Phases II and III will be built by Wagner Construction. This phase of the project spans from the U.S. Highway 83 Bypass to Third Avenue Southwest on the north bank of the river. It consists of about 9,000 linear feet of earthen levees, a roadway closure structure at 16th Street Southwest across the river from the water treatment plant, and a large stormwater pump station located near Perkett Elementary. The State Water Commission also granted the final $20 million carryover appropriation from the 2015-17 biennium to the Broadway pump station construction, which is part of Phase 1 of the flood protection project.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on a study to determine whether there is a federal interest in participating financially in the project.

In August, the city held a ceremony to mark the end of a two-year construction project on a floodwall to protect the water treatment plant from future floods similar to that experienced in Minot when the Souris River flooded in 2011.

The $30 million flood protection project for Minot was a collaboration of local, state and federal partners. The cost share for the project was supported by 75 percent funding ($22.5 million) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 15 percent funding ($4.5 million) from the City of Minot and 10 percent funding ($3 million) from the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services.

This past summer, residents of the valley from Burlington to Sawyer also received their first look at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s preliminary flood plain map, released June 9. The map showed impact on about 3,200 properties in Minot and another 800 properties in Minot’s two-mile extra-territorial area with the change in the flood plain. Staff from the State Engineer’s office, the Hazard Mitigation Program and Houston Engineering joined FEMA representatives at a series of July meetings to address individual property owner’s questions about the new map.

The City of Minot raised issues with the map that FEMA will need to address. City Manager Tom Barry informed the city council in October that, in light of those concerns, adoption of a final flood plain map for Minot could be delayed.

Minot and the Souris River Joint Board are challenging the assumptions of the analysis that went into the preliminary flood map with regard to the impact of reservoir draw down on flood risk. There also is concern related to the guidance used in developing the maps – or the protocols for drafting the maps. The concern focuses on how the regulatory floodway was delineated. If FEMA determined guidance wasn’t followed, the floodway identified on the map will have to be redrawn. If the analysis of the reservoirs changes, the mapping effort would essentially have to start over because a change in flow rate would be felt throughout the downstream.

Originally, FEMA had projected finalizing the map in July 2018, although the agency had noted the time frame would be subject to any appeals or issues needing to be resolved. Even once the map is finalized, jurisdictions have six months to get their ordinances in place before implementation.

Also this past year, a Minot city sales tax ad hoc committee recommended increasing the half percent of sales tax for flood control to a full cent by 2021. The city’s second penny of sales tax also should shift to flood protection once the Northwest Area Water Supply project collects an additional $40 million, expected to occur in 2024, the committee determined.

In preparing the 2018 budget, the city council voted to divert sales tax allocated to the MAGIC Fund and the Community Facilities Fund to flood protection for the next year.

Last fall, the council got its first look at a Souris River Decision Support Tool for measuring how river basin changes can affect flood risk. The creation of the modeling tool is one of the projects in Minot’s National Resilience Program.

By adjusting input data, the tool can offer insights into potential benefits related to buyouts, lowering reservoirs ahead of expected high water flows, increasing storage at Lake Darling, building the flood control project and other scenarios.

A plan for removing blighted homes and establishing a business loan fund moved forward with support of the Minot City Council.

The council approved re-allocating unused money in a 2012 Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program toward the new programs.

The proposal authorizes $800,000 to be used in an acquisition program to buy and clean up blighted properties. With the proposed involuntary program, which will not involve eminent domain, owners will be offered current property values.

The other part of the plan authorizes another $800,000 of the CDBG-DR money to go into a small business revolving loan fund. The city would seek a matching amount from the federal Economic Development Administration.