The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at the possibility of building a levee around North Dakota communities in the southern Red River Valley that would be flooded by a proposed diversion project meant to protect a metropolitan area of about 200,000 people.
The proposal would call for a continuous ring dike at least 10 feet high to be built around Oxbow, Hickson and the Bakke subdivision. The levee would save most of the homes that otherwise would be demolished to make room for a temporary water storage area. About 180 homes are in the three communities.
The 36-mile diversion would move water from the north-flowing Red River around Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., which battled major flooding for three straight years, starting with a record crest in 2009. The White House has signed off on the $2 billion project, but it still needs approval from Congress.
Opponents of the diversion, which would likely take 10 years to build, have threatened legal action.
Terry Williams, project manager for the corps, said the levee option hadn't been advanced because residents in the three communities wanted a plan that saved all homes. The proposal would still require some homes close to the river to be torn down or moved, but Williams did not have an estimate.
"There's a lot of communication to be done with Oxbow, Bakke and Hickson, of course, from here to really understand what they want," Williams said.
Nathan Berseth, a spokesman for the MnDak Upstream Coalition, a group of residents opposed to the current diversion plan, and Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof said they don't have enough information to comment specifically about the plan.
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said officials from his city have been lobbying the corps for the levee.
"Forced buyouts are difficult at best," Walaker said. "I think the residents there should have an opportunity to make that decision."
Williams said there are no cost estimates for the levee, but she thinks it would be comparable to the cost of home buyouts that are part of the current diversion plan. It would also require some roads to be raised.
The Red River Diversion Authority plans to discuss the levee proposal at its Oct. 11 meeting.
"Even though there are people who want to stop the project, we're doing what we can to lessen the impacts," Walaker said. "That's what this is all about."