History of the Dike Controversy

In early 1998, Cass County introduced to its citizens the first draft of the Regional Flood Mitigation Plan. The plan was completed by Mr. Jeff Volk of Moore Engineering. Part of the plan was to construct a dike along the Wild Rice River south of Fargo to stop overland flooding of the Wild Rice River.

While the plan looks favorable on the surface, the overall benefits are questionable when all the facts are reviewed. One of the biggest negative impacts of the proposed dike is that it would raise the flood levels for those living outside the dike system. The plan indicated a rise of two to five inches on the Wild Rice River and three to five inches on the Red River. Impact on the Wild Rice River south of County Road 16, west of I-29, was stated as zero.

After reviewing a proposal, many citizens living outside the dike area realized that there was a potential for higher flood elevations than the zero to five inches the engineer stated in his plan. We attended the meetings St. Benedict's Catholic Church, Horace, ND - April 1997and expressed our concerns. We were told this is a good project that benefits more people than it harms and we should fill out the questionnaires provided indicating our concerns, which many did. We thought our concerns would be addressed and we would be contacted, but we never were!

The next thing we knew, an article in the
Forum, dated October 8, 1998, stated the Cass County Flood Master Plan Committee voted to forward a two phase flood control concept to the SE Cass Water Resource Board for its consideration. At this point, we knew that no one was listening to us, and we needed to organize and get involved. We needed to insure that we, along with future generations, would not suffer the negative effects of such a short-sighted plan.

We contacted several neighbors and had an organizational meeting. Together our initial group contaced most citizens living outside the proposed dike area. We asked them to sign a petition to the Cass County Commission, dated October 12, 1998, requesting that an unbiased second opinion be obtained regarding the effects of the dike project. We then proposed to plan an organizational meeting October 26, 1998 at the Hickson Community Center. The support was overwhelming and thus was born "Citizens for Responsible Flood Control." We sent letters, dated October 26, 1998, to the Cass County Commission, SE Cass Water Resource District, ND State Water Commission, and Stanley and Pleasant Townships expressing our concerns.

Flooded Wild Rice River at sunset - April 1997

The Cass County Commission allowed us to speak at their November 2, 1998 meeting where we expressed our views and requested an unbiased second opinion be made of the entire dike project. The Commission was gracious enough to stop funding the project while our concerns could be addressed by the Cass County Flood Master Plan Committee A November 10, 1998 Public Input Meeting was scheduled.

On November 9, 1998, Cass County Commissioners, Robbie Quick and Keith Berndt, and engineer, Jeff Volk, met with Mich Pflugrath and Terry Compson from the Citizens Group to tour the dike area. We "agreed to disagree" on the flood level increases. For the first time, Mr. Volk stated the flood plan impact would be zero to two inches for both the Red River and the Wild Rice River, different from the zero to five inches he stated in the Mitigation Plan study. He agreed to send us hydraulic data supporting his position. By the end of the meeting, Mrs. Quick agreed that a second opinion engineering study was needed.

The November 10, 1998 Public Input Meeting was weather delayed to November 12, 1998. At that time, the Citizens Group and Mr. Volk gave Water over the road near Wild Rice, ND - April 1997opposing views as to the effects the dike system would have

On November 16, 1998, the Citizens Group wrote Mrs. Quick thanking her for the time she gave the Citizens Group. We asked her for help in obtaining the hydraulic data Mr. Volk had promised us, which we had not received. In a follow up phone call to Mrs. Quick about two weeks later, we were told we'd have to wait until the study was completed to receive this information. How Mr. Volk could have made the "0" to "2" inch statement, without having the supporting data already on file, remains a mystery.

During our struggles to get the Flood Master Committee to see our point of view, our Citizens Group was contacted by many people living within the proposed dike area. They thanked us for our involvement to stop the Wading in the flood at Wild Rice, ND - April 1997proposed dike and asked how they could organize to resist the dike plan, too. Our group talked with many people residing inside the proposed dike area and we were soon convinced there was little support for the dike plan. We reviewed the Flood Mitigation Plan more closely and found a homeowner with a house valued at $100,000 would pay approximately $450 to $800 in additional taxes or .4 1/2% to .8%. The farmers were to be assessed between $50 and $75 per acre. If we value farmland at approximately $1,000 per acre, that calculates out to 4 1/2% to 8%, or about 10 times more than the non-farming homeowner. We also asked the people inside the dike why they opposed it. We put their thoughts in letter form and started a "Dear Neighbor" letter campaign to get the word out .

Reflections of the flooded Wild Rice River - April 1997On November 17, 1998, we wrote the US Corps of Engineers requesting assistance. Unfortunately, since our organization is citizen based and not a government agency, the Corps could not assist us. It became apparent that in addition to gaining support and working with citizens, we also needed the support of government entities as well. Therefore, we started to work with governmental agencies that also wanted a review of the proposed dike plan.

On December 10, 1998, we sent out the first newsletter to our members . We also mailed a letter to most rural people living inside the proposed dike area. The response was so positive that on January 18, 1998, we decided to sent 5,700 letters to citizens living within the Fargo city limits south of 32nd Avenue. On December 26, 1998, a letter was sent to the Cass County Commission informing them as to why the Citizens Group so strongly opposes the dike project.

In January 1999, Pleasant Township amended their flood plan ordinance allowing for a one inch increase of the flood plan for any water diversion projects which could affect the flood plan in their township. The prior law allowed for an increase of one foot. Both FEMA and the ND State Water Commission were notified of the change. This is a big step in protecting the citizens of Pleasant Township from damaging effects future water projects could have on their flood plan. The Pleasant Township Board should be commended for their insight.

On January 7, 1999, the City of Briarwood requested the Corps of Engineers to review the dike plan. In late January, the Citizens Group received a copy of the Corps' reply. They agreed to review the hydraulic data for the dike plan. On February 22, 1999, the Citizens Group, along with Pleasant Township, wrote a letter to the Corps of Engineers expressing their concerns over the importance of an unbiased review of the dike project. No one we know has seen any hydraulic data from the engineer to substantiate his zero to two inch theory. There is little doubt in our minds that the citizens living outside the dike would experience higher water levels than those stated by Mr. Jeff Volk. We believe the City of Fargo would also experience higher flood levels with the proposed dike in place. We must continue our efforts until the appropriate hydraulic data is produced and can be properly evaluated.

We understand that the dike project could be built without allowing a public vote. One of the options available to the City of Fargo would be to circumvent the vote by using a legal maneuver available to them. It would be very unjust of the Fargo city government to use this option should they feel the votes aren't there to pass the dike project on its own merit. We are concerned about that!

In late March 1999, we called the engineer to inquire when the hydraulic Overland flooding near Wild Rice, ND - April 1997data would be sent to the Corps of Engineers. He stated it was sent to them about ten days prior, however,
the report did not include any hydraulic data on the Wild Rice River. The hydraulic data is necessary to verify his zero to two inch theory. He stated he will be including other options in his final report that will address our concerns, but he wanted to present the data to the Flood Master Paln Committee first. He thought the report would be done about April 21, 1999.

We are very concerned about Mr. Volk's unwillingness to provide the hydraulic data of the Wild Rice River. We will continue to speak out and work with the various agencies to insure the hydraulic information is obtained. Without this information, we can not know the true effects the proposed dike project would have on our lives and the lives of future generations!

On May 6, 1999, the members of the Citizens Group attended a meeting of the Cass County Floodplan Master Committee where the engineer presented his final draft of the Cass County Flood Mitigation Study. He added another diking alternative at a more northerly location in Stanley Township. He did changed his flood level increase to zero to three inches instead of zero to two inches, however, provided no hydraulic data to back up his theory. We now realize Mr. Volk doesn't have any hydraulic data for the Wild Rice River. His data is based on personal estimates. This is not acceptable data. We contend it is cricically important to have the effects of any proposed dike system.

The Citizens Group wants to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We have talked with the water experts and government officials throughout the Red River Valley and beyond to educate ourselves. People from the Red River Basin Board, Internation Joint Coalition, Bois de Sioux Watershed District, Basin Wide, mayors of Wahpeton, Fargo, and Moorhead. People from the ND State Water Commission, US Corps of Engineers, engineering firms, affected township, plus thousands of citizens both within and outside the proposed dike.

We've found there is little support for the dike proposal:

No one wants to pay for a dike project protecting property from a flood that occurs every 100 to 500 years when less expensive options are available.

No property is removed from the 100 year flood plain.

Property owners will pay repair and maintenance cost of the dike forever.

People living outside the dike are put in harms way, including higher flood levels for the Red River going through Fargo.

People inside the dike do not want to push water onto friends and neighbors living outside the dike.

Reflections of the flooded Wild Rice River on farm fields near Wild Rice, ND - April 1997Water experts tell us, and we agree, that a better solution is to support and create water retention sites throughout the River River Basin. Meanwhile, we need to protect structures that already exist in south Fargo. As Fargo grows to the south, we need to elevate future structures a safe distance above the flood plain and build flood proofed basements. This concept has worked well in Pleasant and Stanley townships. Homes constructed in this manner were not damaged in the 1997 flood. This "Good Neighbor" approach will benefit all citizens. We are working to get our county and city governments on board with these concepts.