Fargo mayor says it’s time to take down levees as Red River recedes, major flood risk ends

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Red River recedes, ending major flood risk in ND

FARGO, N.D. — Residents hauled sandbags to the street, the National Guard departed, and city officials lined up bulldozers to tear down clay levees Thursday as the major risk of flood passed in Fargo and Moorhead, Minn.

The river separating the two cities was measured at 29.99 feet at 3:45 a.m. Thursday, officially changing the city’s status from major to moderate risk of flood, according to the National Weather Service. For local residents, it meant the flood fight was over.

“We figure the river is probably going to behave itself for a while,” Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said.

Residents have been on alert since March 14, when they were told the north-flowing Red River would crest weeks earlier than normal. Thousands were evacuated and about 100 homes flooded the year before when the river hit a record 40.84 feet on March 28.

This year, it crested March 21 in Fargo-Moorhead at just under 37 feet, or 19 feet above flood stage. By then, residents in the two cities had placed about 1.5 million sandbags to protect their property. No major damage was reported.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said the river’s drop below 30 feet means it’s time to begin removing levees and return to normal. City officials hoped to finish specifications Thursday for contractors bidding to remove the miles of clay dikes.

“We’re pretty sure it’s not going to bounce up again,” Walaker said. “Once the dikes are all removed, we can get back to normal, whatever normal is.”

It isn’t normal to have major flooding two years in a row, the mayors said. Last year’s flood set records, and this year’s was less dramatic but still the seventh-highest crest on record in Fargo-Moorhead.

“We have a good operation that can fight a pretty major flood,” Voxland said. “That means we are having too many floods.”

It might be time for engineers and others to review the flood stage definitions for the area, National Weather Service spokesman Greg Gust said. The construction of levees and buyouts of homes in low areas have made the rising river seem like less of a threat, but having it rise above 30 feet is still a big deal, he said.

“We’re just used to it,” Gust said.

The North Dakota National Guard ended its 18-day mission Thursday. It had called up nearly 800 members to help with sandbagging, traffic control, dike patrol and emergency response. Most had been stationed in the Red River Valley in southern North Dakota.

Many Fargo-Moorhead residents had already started tearing down sandbag dikes. Calvin Singleton, who lives near the river in south Moorhead, used a small tractor and wagon to haul about 1,800 sandbags to the street. He started the job Wednesday.

“I’m saving some sandbags for my son for the weekend,” Singleton said, smiling.

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