As the one-year anniversary of 2009’s massive Midwest flood approaches, time is running out for a permanent solution that will spare the densely populated cities of Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., the next time the Red River rises beyond its banks.
The trouble is, that solution puts nearby small towns like Perley, Minn., — population 111 — directly in the path of diverted floodwaters.
“There’s only one place for it to go — our way — and we can’t take anymore, believe me,” says Perley Mayor Ann Manley.
Flooding occurs in the Red River Valley every spring, but last March the damage was unprecedented as the river waters rose to record-setting levels exceeding 40 feet in some areas.
A combination of flat frozen terrain, rain, snowfall and ice jams puts the area at consistent risk.
Local leaders hope that the $1 billion water diversion project planned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will gain federal approval and 65 percent of the cost in federal money in 2010, and say there is little time for disagreement about the details.
The sooner the project is approved, the sooner the cities of Fargo and Moorhead can stop worrying about inevitable flooding each year.
But the 30-foot-deep diversion paths could put Perley and other small towns just north of Fargo at risk for even more destruction in areas that are already challenged by flooding, and rural residents fear they’re being sacrificed for the good of the bigger cities.
“Fargo and Moorhead are the big guns,” said Manley. “We don’t have the people. We don’t have the money. But this is going to affect all the little towns.”