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Minot seeks funds for Puppy Dog Coulee flood project

An aging drainage system for the Dakota Square Mall area won’t last much longer, according to engineers. Money for a more modern system is the big hurdle, and the Minot City Council took a step it hopes will address that obstacle in approving an application for a federal grant Tuesday.

The city is seeking about $9.4 million from the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The city wants to resolve flooding potential associated with the Puppy Dog Coulee, one of the five major drainage basins around the city of Minot. The drainage basin is about 9,500 acres, most of it outside city limits. In comparison, that’s about the equivalent of 53% of the city’s land area, according to Minot City Engineer Lance Meyer.

The area impacted in the city is generally between 37th Avenue Southwest and Thompson Lake, located adjacent to Wellington Assisted Living at 601 24th Ave. SW.

“This truly does have a bad history of overland flooding, especially greater than that 10-year storm event,” Meyer told the council.

A series of 84-inch corrugated metal pipes installed in the early ’80s and mid-’90s around the mall area are failing fast, Meyer said.

“It’s getting to the point now where we’re going to have additional issues. About seven years ago we did have part of a parking lot collapse,” he said.

Without action, 16th Street Southwest can become submerged by several feet of water for several hours in a large storm event. In a 25-year or larger storm, overland flooding occurs, impacting several homes and Dakota Square-area businesses.

Some homes in the Green Acres subdivision along 16th Street are among those endangered.

Green Acres resident Jacqueline Rutten said the house she and her husband built in Green Acres in 1976 flooded a few years later but then not again until 2010. Their home flooded in 2011 and twice in 2013. Rutten said they had nearly finished repairs from April when it flooded in June in 2013.

Flood-impacted homeowners with mortgages now must take on the expense of flood insurance, which can be a factor in decisions about buying and selling a home.

“Eventually, we are going to be selling the house and it would make a difference to the buyer, for sure, and therefore would make a difference to us,” Rutten said. Besides, there is the ever-present concern about flooding, especially in years like 2020, when rising water prompted some nervousness.

“It’s something you worry about all the time,” Rutten said.

The Green Acres Homeowners Association has additional concern over cattails in its park and a drainage ditch, said former association president Scott Lucas.

Meyer said the area is essentially a wetland, and the city’s proposed drainage improvements won’t provide a benefit to cattail control. However, the city’s Public Works Department is considering a future project to clean some of the channel and expects to reach out to the association in the future, he said.

The association signed a construction easement a few years ago on the proposed drainage improvement project.

Meyer said an engineering project that started in 2015 came up with three alternatives for the project. All alternatives have a double 12-foot-by-8-foot box culvert, which is significantly larger than the existing pipes.

“Essentially, what we’re doing is we’re constructing an underground river to carry this flow,” Meyer said. Once completed, the project will remove almost all properties from the 100-year flood plain.

Typically, the city finances half of large projects itself through storm water development fees that it collects. The other half is special assessed to impacted property owners. However, the city only can assess properties within its limits.

Only about 12% of the watershed is within city limits, Meyer said. The city can pay the assessments for areas outside city limits and assess them to properties as they are annexed, but because of the size of the watershed, the city could never recover that money, he said.

As a potential solution, the BRIC grant covers up to 75% of eligible project construction costs. Meyer noted the benefit-to-cost ratio must be at least one, and the current benefit cost ratio is 1.24.

The estimated federal grant amount of $9.4 million for construction would require a city share estimated at $4 million for easements, engineering and construction.

“We do have our local share available. We’ve been saving for this project over time so we do have cash on hand,” Meyer said.

The city has submitted its grant application to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, which will review it for compliance and forward it to FEMA. A decision is expected this summer.

If the grant is denied, Meyer said options are to look for low-interest loan financing from the state, use traditional bonding or continue saving for the project through the development fund, which takes in about $1.1 million a year. Meyer stressed urgency, though, given the condition of the existing pipe system.

“It could really fail at any point,” he said. “We are essentially out of time.”

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