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Minot flood protection measures endorsed

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Minot flood protection measures endorsed
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BISMARCK (AP) -- A newly approved study for a planned flood-protection project along the Souris River should help homeowners who were swamped earlier this year find out how they would be affected by such a system, Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Wednesday.

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The North Dakota Water Commission, of which Dalrymple is chairman, on Wednesday approved a request to hire an engineering firm to conduct a study for the flood-protection project. Among the study's goals is to figure out locations for proposed new river levees.

The Souris River Joint Water Resource Board, which includes Ward, Renville, McHenry and Bottineau counties in northwestern North Dakota, will supervise the project, although the state will pay the "lion's share" of the expense, Dalrymple said. The study's cost is not yet known.

Dalrymple and Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman have scheduled a news conference Thursday in Minot to discuss the study.

The Souris River crosses the Canadian border near Sherwood and loops past Burlington, Minot and Velva before re-entering Canada northeast of Westhope. Unprecedented spring flooding, caused mostly by heavy rains, swamped about 4,100 homes in Minot alone.

Dalrymple and Tim Fay, a Water Commission engineer, said the project is likely to feature new levees and river channel changes along its route, and include a number of construction options.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not manage the effort, although the agency will be consulted to make sure any flood protection features meet its requirements, Fay said. Having the state and local governments run the project should help get it finished more quickly, he said.

Said Dalrymple: "A slow timeline is probably not going to be acceptable on this type of project."

Fay and Dalrymple said the study for the project should give many homeowners an indication of whether their property is now deemed vulnerable to flooding or whether it is not. The governor said it will not have definitive answers for every homeowner.

"This first step is very critical, because not only do we need to get a good project design, but also there are a lot of people in Minot that are trying to make decisions about what to do with their damaged or destroyed homes," Fay said. "Those people need to know, as soon as possible, if in the future they will be protected, or not protected, or if in the future, their homes will end up in the footprint of a levee

system."

Harley Swenson of Bismarck, a Water Commission member and engineer, questioned whether the state and local governments could afford the project's likely cost without federal help. The expense could run to "hundreds of millions of dollars," Swenson said.

Fay said he hoped the corps will be kept well enough informed about the project that "if at some point, we feel that we absolutely need to turn to them, that we'll be able to merge what we have with their policies and continue on."

The project's expense could be spread over a number of years, and could focus initially on Minot and other larger communities along the river where flood protection is most critical, Fay said.

"There are a number of ways that this project could grow, and we need to have a good feel for all of them before we make any firm decisions," he said. "We just want to get started on it."

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