Senator Hoeven brings Army Corps of Engineers, federal agencies to Minot to discuss flood protection

Submitted Photo The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chief of Engineers and Commanding General Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite gets a first-hand look at the Mouse River Enhanced Flood Protection Project, which went into construction in 2018. Shown touring with him Tuesday in this photo taken by Patrick Loch with the St. Paul District of the Corps is Sen. John Hoeven and other federal, state and local officials.

The chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed the final report on the Souris River flood protection project during a gathering of government officials brought together by Sen. John Hoeven in Minot City Hall Tuesday.

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite’s signature is an important step in getting congressional authorization for the project, which could lead to federal funding for a portion of the $87.3 million Maple Diversion. The diversion is eligible for funding consideration because it meets the benefit to cost ratio, although by a very small margin and well below a threshold set by the administration for priority funding.

“What I need you all to do is to keep pushing hard,” Semonite told the city, noting the stiff competition for federal dollars. “I would just caution you, it’s probably an uphill battle, given the normal way that things run. So wherever there are innovative ways of either working through the process, or the metrics, we want to be a champion to continue to make this project as viable as possible.”

Semonite said he supports the project “because it’s the right thing to do for the people in Minot.”

Although eligibility needs to be based on science and engineering, funding shouldn’t rely on arbitrary metrics but on common sense, he said.

Jill Schramm/MDN Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chief, signs the Chief’s Report to Congress on the Mouse River Enhanced Flood Protection Project in Minot City Council chambers Tuesday as Sen. John Hoeven looks on at left.

“It should be based on a fundamental obligation to continue to improve the lives of our people, and to protect them from the damages,” he said. “The bottom line is there are times where that tends to focus on the value of property instead of people, and I hate to say it, but the effect on people doesn’t get calculated into the ratio and it should be the most important thing when we think about the advantage of a project.”

Semonite also spoke of the need to consider the flood protection project as a system. If the system can’t move water safely through the city because a piece is missing, that impacts the value of that piece, he said.

The Maple Diversion is calculated to save more than $4 million in damages that would be incurred in another flood and protect more than 3,500 businesses and homes.

“I don’t need any more analysis,” Semonite said in light of that information. “I am prepared to sign the Chief’s Report today, right now, and put this in the record and send this to Congress.”

Among other Corps officials present for the signing were Col. Sam Calkins, St. Paul District commander; Michael Bart, chief of engineering and construction; Nathan Wellerstedt, chief of the project management branch; and Kevin Wilson, deputy for programs and project management.

Hoeven brought together a wide range of federal, state and local officials in Minot to help identify funding sources for building future phases of the Mouse River Enhanced Flood Protection Project. Agencies represented were the U.S. departments of Transportation, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development, Federal Emergency Management Agency, North Dakota Department of Commerce and State Water Commission.

The group discussed a number of potential funding sources, from Community Development Block Grant dollars for property acquisitions to BUILD grants for infrastructure as well as USDA Rural Development loan programs.

The first five phases of the flood protection project are estimated to cost $233 million. The first three phases are under way. Phase four is the Maple Diversion and phase five consists of the east and west tie-back levees. The best case scenario on phases four and five is to break ground in 2021 with completion in 2024. The ability to proceed requires resolving issues with Burlington Northern Santa Fe, whose tracks would be affected.

The $86 million phase six includes a downtown floodwall, South Roosevelt Park floodwall/levee and South Valker Road Levee. Construction is estimated to occur in six to 10 years. Phases seven and eight, estimated at $166 million, includes the easternmost side of the city and is estimated for construction in 10 to 15 years.

Hoeven said a game plan for funding needs to be nailed down now so work can begin to obtain the money. He stressed the need for the Maple Diversion to complete the first four phases that will protect 60% of the city.

“It’s critical in terms of linking those other phases and providing a lot more benefit than just the benefit of phase four,” he said. “So we’ll have to build the case. Then, frankly, we will have to go to work and get funded.”