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Grafton, N.D., seeks cheaper flood protection: With federal funds uncertain, city opts for scaled-back diversion plan

GRAND FORKS -- Frustrated by diminishing prospects of federal funding for a proposed $42 million flood diversion project, officials in Grafton want to design a smaller program that could provide some protection and reduce the city's flood-plain footprint.

Grafton City Council agreed recently to hire an engineering firm to design such a project.

It would be a scaled-down version, or perhaps a first phase, of a $42 million Park River Flood Control Project proposed several years ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Park River runs through north Grafton on its way to the Red River.

The corps' proposed diversion project would provide 100-year flood protection for the entire community.

However, Grafton has been unable to obtain the $31.5 million in federal funding necessary for the project, according to Mayor Chris West.

He describes the corps proposal as a "Cadillac" project that would take the entire city out of the flood plain.

"We're revisiting our corps project, to see if there's a different option," he said.

History of floods

Three separate flood events this past spring resulted in an estimated $2 million in damage to private and public property in Grafton.

More than 500 homes in Grafton had flood damage in the most recent flood, which resulted from sewers backing up into basements.

Grafton, a city of 4,200 about 40 miles north of Grand Forks, also has experienced chronic flooding during wet years.

In 2009, the city also experienced three separate spring flood crests, and in 2002, more than 200 homes in the city were damaged by flooding.

Grafton has about $10 million -- $7 million the North Dakota State Water Commission allocated in 2010 toward the corps project, plus about $3.5 million in city funds -- to put toward a scaled-down flood control project, according to West.

Grafton's funds come from budget reserves and a 2 percent city sales tax, which brings in about $600,000 annually. The money had been designated to go toward the corps project.

"We're doing something to help our community and looking ahead."

Insurance rising

A scaled-down version could reduce the city's flood plain footprint and possibly provide some relief from rising flood insurance costs to local residents and businesses.

Under the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which Congress passed last year, flood insurance rates will begin rising by 25 percent annually for the next four years for businesses in flood zones and on homes that have been severely or repeatedly flooded.

In addition, anybody who buys property under the law will have to obtain an elevation certificate, which could cost $500 to $600, according to West, who is in the insurance business.

"Even if it's out of the flood plain, you still have to spend the money," he said. "What we're doing is kind of in response to the (Biggert-Waters) Act."