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$276M to help rebuild ND highways

GRAND FORKS -- The Devils Lake Basin and other flood-damaged regions of North Dakota soon will receive a total of $276 million in federal highway funding to help recover from the devastating floods of 2011.

More than $89 million will be available for the Devils Lake Basin. That money, plus more than $10 million allocated this fall, pushes the basin to its new $100 million annual federal highway funding cap. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

The Devils Lake Basin recently lost its federal exemption as a "closed basin" in the same legislation that capped basin flood funding.

In a joint statement, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., said they would work to try to find additional funds that would not count against the cap for the basin, which has experienced chronic flooding since 1993.

"Flooding in nearly every corner of the state made last year one of the most challenging on record," the delegation said in a joint statement. "These resources represent a significant investment in the maintenance and safety of the hundreds of miles of North Dakota's federal highways."

Emergency funds

The funding announced Thursday is part of more than $316 million in U.S. Department of Transportation Emergency Relief funds Congress approved late last year.

Other awards are: $50 million for the West James River Basin; $39 million for the South Souris River Basin; and $9 million for the Sheyenne/James River Basin. An additional $88 million will be available to help various parts of the state.

The delegation indicated that quick fund distribution will help the state get a head start on flood recovery.

"It's going to help us out tremendously," Ramsey County Commission Chairman Bill Mertens said. "The release of the money is very critical in the basin so contractors can get paid. We have counties and townships in the basin that haven't had money to pay their local shares of projects."

The delegation also noted that the federal agency's emergency relief program establishes resources for the repair or reconstruction of federal-aid highways and roads that have suffered serious damage as a result of natural disasters or catastrophic failures from an external cause.

The emergency relief program funds are used to repair or restore essential roadways, minimize the extent of damage or protect the remaining facilities, as well as permanent repairs necessary to restore the highways to their pre-disaster condition.

By most estimates, approximately $1.5 billion has been spent, most of it to raise roads and other critical infrastructure, to protect the Devils Lake Basin from the nearly 19-year, almost continuous flood. Devils Lake has risen by nearly 32 feet and quadrupled in size, reaching a record elevation this past summer of 1,454.4 feet above sea level.

Bonham is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.