MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Widespread flooding concerns have emergency management teams across Minnesota working overtime this spring, probably nowhere more so than in Fargo-Moorhead’s Red River Valley.
Record flooding a decade ago pushed communities to the brink. They’re under states of emergency now because the river could reach that same level later this spring. But as WCCO’s Liz Collin discovered, the view looks much different than it did a decade ago.
The sound of spring in Fargo-Moorhead is far from any birds chirping in the breeze, where Terry Ludlum is serving as director of operations at what’s known as “Sandbag Central.”
“We can always adjust and ramp down, but we’ve learned in the past you really can’t ramp up,” Ludlum said.
That past is still fresh in the minds of families who live here. In 2009, the Red River set a record 41-foot crest. Forecasters say there’s a 5 to 10 percent chance the river hits that record this year. So far, warm days and cold nights have helped to slow the melt along this flat valley and keep the Red’s curves and bends in its banks.
This spring is considered the first real test of a pricey flood mitigation plan a decade in the making.
Since 2009 nearly 900 homes in all of the Fargo-Moorhead area have been bought out with nearly $250 million, forcing people to re-locate and fracturing longtime neighborhoods. It’s work that continues to this day.
Michele Brandt’s home is one of six in Fargo’s Copperfield Court to either move or be leveled to make way for clay dike construction.
“I had planned on staying there forever,” she said. “I had my kids there we spent 20 years there.”
Many homeowners were caught off guard, leading to years-long negotiations for buyouts that ended up in court.
“Really odd now having no houses there when it used to be a neighborhood full of people. It’s really sad to lose the neighbors,” Mary Rothfusz said.
Still, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz called the moves necessary.
“It’s not easy. It’s passion, it’s people’s land, century farms, some of those type of things. We need to work together to understand how to make this right for everyone,” Walz said.
He believes they’re paying off. Back at “Sandbag Central,” volunteers will fill 1 million sandbags this spring, 5 million fewer than 10 years ago, closing in on a mid-April crest.
“It’s wait and watch but prep and be ready to go. We continue to triage and step up,” Walz said.