Launch Slideshow

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Keeping the ‘Red’ out

Keeping the ‘Red’ out

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    Above: When the flood of 1997 hit, 90% of East Grand Forks' residents and 75% of Grand Forks'residents were forced to evacuate. Right: About 2200 acres in the sister cities area were converted to a greenway after the 1997 flood. It includes picnic and playground areas, golf courses, sledding hills, fishing sites, a rock dam, and more than 14 miles of bike and pedestrian trails. Photos: City of Grand Forks

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    Above: This obelisk (pictured during spring 2005 flooding) is a flood memorial indicating all of the great Red River floods. The peak indicates the level of the 1997 flood.

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    Historic St. Anne's/St, Michael's was almost sacrificed to the floods. The idea to build a porch that also serves as a floodwall made it possible to save the building.

Developing A Greenway

As another side benefit of the flood control construction, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks have taken the opportunity to develop an extensive park system, or greenway, that draws people to the river. “For some time, the Corps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have said not to build next to a river. Leave a buffer zone for recreational purposes and for Mother Nature to flow,” said Walker. “We have been able to do that.”

The low-lying homes inside the flood-plain boundary, most of which had been damaged by floodwaters, were purchased and removed. Approximately 2200 acres in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were converted to a greenway, which serves the dual purposes of mitigating floods and enhancing quality of life. Approximately 800 acres in Grand Forks were converted to parks, picnic and playground areas, a campground, golf courses, sledding hills, shore bank fishing sites, rock dams, and more than 14 miles of bike and pedestrian trials. A tribute to the former Lincoln Park neighborhood, which had 100 homes destroyed by the 1997 flood, can be found within the greenway. A key feature in the downtown area is a flood memorial—an obelisk indicating all of the great Red River floods. The top of the obelisk is at the elevation of the 1997 flood.

The teams prepared the cities to combat a second major flood. The odds that another flood of this magnitude will occur before construction is complete are small, but residents keep a close eye on the river each year as the snow begins to melt. “Spring floods are my biggest challenge,” said Walker. “This spring the river was swollen again, to the point where we had to activate several flood pump stations built during the project.

“As we look to the future we recognize that previous flood fights have been the community fighting floodwaters with sand bags in residential back yards and installation of numerous gasoline powered portable pumps. We now have a more permanent solution of fighting floods with levees and control operated flood pump stations in place,” said Walker. “Best of all, the system will be built to a higher elevation than the height of the ‘97 flood. It provides some peace of mind for many people.”

Johnson is vice president and senior project manager with Stanley Consultants, Minneapolis.