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A City of Fargo crew removes panels from the flood wall at Oak Grove Lutheran School on Tuesday, April 23. David Samson / The Forum

Spring flood costs top $2 million in Fargo-Moorhead, exceed $61.6 million since record 2009 flood

FARGO — Local governments in the Fargo area expect to have spent more than $2 million on emergency measures to combat the spring flood and will have spent at least $61.6 million fighting floods since the record 2009 crest.

The city of Fargo and Cass County each estimate costs of fighting this year’s spring flood at $900,000, officials said, and Fargo expects the total will reach $1 million when clean-up costs are included.

The city of Moorhead’s estimate of the spring flood stands at $279,005. Moorhead is geographically higher than the city of Fargo and requires fewer emergency protections.

Clay County officials estimate $115,000 has been spent so far on the 2019 flood and that number may grow, though they do not know yet by how much.

Federal disaster declarations have yet to be issued for North Dakota or Minnesota for the spring flood, which in Fargo-Moorhead crested at 35.03 feet, the 10th highest on record.

Once a disaster is declared and the federal government absorbs most of the cost, however, the local share of flood costs usually falls in the range of 5% to 10% of the total, said Kent Costin, the city of Fargo’s finance director.

“By the time you get done with the paperwork, it’s not as profound as having to shoulder all of the costs,” he said.

Still, local governments must maintain high financial reserves to handle frequent flood emergencies, which over the past decade have occurred in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2019.

“We never really know when these types of events will hit,” Costin said.

The flood cost totals, compiled from figures supplied by the cities of Fargo and Moorhead as well as Cass and Clay counties, include the cost of building emergency dikes, filling and distributing sandbags, repairing streets and roads, disposing of solid waste and tallying flood-related staff time.

Volunteers filled 400,000 sandbags for Fargo’s flood fight, an effort begun when probabilistic forecasts predicted a 5% chance the Red River could reach 41.4 feet, which would be greater than the record 2009 flood of 40.84 feet, and a 50% chance of a 38-foot crest.

In Cass County, volunteers filled 100,000 sandbags, and officials distributed about 80,000 filled bags to rural residents. Clay County built two temporary dikes to protect rural subdivisions near the Red River, fewer than the five dikes originally planned.

The cost tallies don’t consider the value of volunteer labor and fail to capture disruptions in residents’ lives or the emotional toll imposed by repeated major floods, officials said.

“We can’t gamble with peoples’ lives and the economy every year,” said Jason Benson, Cass County engineer.

Fargo, Moorhead and Cass and Clay counties are among the governments that comprise the Metro Flood Diversion Authority, which is working to build a $2.75 billion project that will provide permanent flood protection for a 100-year flood level of 41.4 feet.

In tandem with that project, which officials hope to complete by 2025, the cities of Fargo and Moorhead are building miles of permanent levees and floodwalls capable of handling a flood of at least 37 feet.

Once the diversion and associated permanent flood defenses are in place, the cities no longer will require costly and disruptive temporary defenses, officials said.