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Officials look ahead on flood protection project

Hoeven facilitates discussion on progress

Jill Schramm/MDN Ryan Ackerman, administrator for the Souris River Joint Board, left, and Nathan Wallerstedt, project management branch chief with the St. Paul District of the Corps of Engineers, speak to Sen. John Hoeven and members of the Minot City Council at Wednesday’s discussion on flood protection progress.

Sen. John Hoeven brought together the Army Corps of Engineers, legislators and local officials on Wednesday to consider moving the Mouse River Enhanced Flood Protection Project to its finish.

“Overall, it’s about a $1.1 billion program,” Souris River Joint Board Administrator Ryan Ackerman said.

“We’ve got about $430 million of work and acquisitions complete. Including the funding of the $61.5 million from Corps of Engineers, we’ve got about $220 million that has been appropriated in the queue,” Ackerman said. “We still have an unmet need of about $450 million.”

During the meeting at Minot City Hall, Hoeven spoke about Continuing Authorized Program funding that could be available for future flood project phases through the Corps. CAP funding is automatic federal funding that the Corps can use at its discretion in small projects under $10 million.

Along with finding funding for the future, Hoeven said, he wants to see the flood project restore the oxbows cut off from the main channel by a 1970s flood protection project.

“You’ve got stagnant water there. You get algae over the top, and I think we need to find a way, as we do this comprehensive flood plan, that we have parks and different things to enhance the city,” he said.

“The Maple Diversion affords us a pretty significant opportunity to improve these dead loops through Oak Park and Nubbin Park in northwest Minot,” Ackerman said. “We’ve got a great opportunity to restore flow through Oak Park and Nubbin Park and actually, we have secured concurrence from the Omaha District, the Army Corps of Engineers, that by opening up these dead loops, we’re able to use that as compensatory mitigation for our stream impacts that we have with the project.”

He explained that rock to be placed in sections of the river degrades the habitat, but opening the two dead loops can offset that impact.

“Once these loops are opened up, it does create a recreation opportunity for canoers, kayakers,” he added, noting river use would be possible from the water treatment plant to Roosevelt Park. However, to accommodate flows and recreation on three deadloops within various phases of the project in southeast Minot would require structures costing about $25 million per loop, he said.

“So, the current design of phase MI-6 includes features that are going to improve the flow through the loops,” he said. “It will be better, but it will not be as good as what’s been planned for Oak Park and Nubbin Park, and the reason why is that we’ve maintained a relatively narrow focus about this and said if we’re funding-constrained, we need to focus on protecting people. If we can do this in a cost-effective manner and justify the use of flood control funds to do it, we will absolutely do it, like we did at Oak Park and Nubbin Park. But in this case, we felt like the cost was too high.”

Ackerman also spoke about progress with the Maple Diversion, which is in line for the $61.45 million in federal assistance through the Corps.

“Our intent is to gear up the design teams within the next month and start the push toward a final design, with the intent of having this fully designed by late 2025 for a construction start in 2026. With all the different components of this project it is likely to take four, potentially five, years to build,” Ackerman said.

Retired Col. Karl Jansen with the Corps of Engineers’ St. Paul District, now a civilian deputy with the Corps, said the draft agreement recently reached with the railroads regarding the Maple Diversion pathway reignites the Corps’ work with the joint board.

“Moving through design, other administrative requirements and, ultimately, into construction is the most important phase for us in our partnership with the Souris board,” he said. “Our communication, our partnership, from here forward is absolutely paramount. We’ve got a lot of steps ahead. We’ve got to watch everything very carefully.”

Hoeven urged the Corps to commit to moving the project along as quickly as possible.

Joint Board Chairman David Ashley said the biggest push now is to get the funding.

“Because if we’ve got the funding, we’ve got the folks to get ‘er done,” he said.

City Engineer Lance Meyer provided an update on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s map revisions for the Souris River floodplain. The latest map is expected to become available for review this spring, he said. It likely would be another year before the map would become effective, he said.

Meyer indicated construction won’t be completed on any of the three milestones through Minot within that time, resulting in many homeowners in the valley ending up in a floodplain with significant federal flood insurance premiums. Based on the time estimates for Maple Diversion construction, he said, “It’s probably going to be 2032 before we can take people out of the flood plain, unless somehow that project is accelerated. If there’s other phases downstream – say, for instance, milestone two if those phases are completed – we may have an opportunity to take folks out of the floodplain in that milestone first.”

Rep. Lori Van Winkle, R-Minot, raised a concern related to properties defined by FEMA as in the floodway. People who experience flooding in a floodway are denied the ability to rebuild.

Meyer responded that in appealing FEMA’s original map revision, arguments were presented that prompted FEMA to both shrink the floodplain and reduce the floodway to within the riverbank for the most part. With the change, he said, the only properties left in the floodway are parks and lowland areas and potentially a couple of mobile home parks that are scheduled to be acquired by the flood protection project.

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