Leaders implore legislators for flood mitigation funds

The Moorhead City Council’s legislative working group spent three days in St. Paul talking to legislators about finishing the city’s flood mitigation plan. (From left) Laura Caroon, governmental affairs director Lisa Bode, Chuck Hendrickson and Mayor Shelly Carlson. (Photo/Nancy Hanson.)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Will Moorhead’s 15-year quest for flood mitigation funds finally succeed in 2024? Four city leaders joined with county, business, education and health-care leaders to make the case for completion at Moorhead Area Day at the Capital last week.
Mayor Shelly Carlson, council members Chuck Hendrickson and Laura Caroon, and Lisa Bode, the city’s director of governmental affairs, were part of a delegation of nearly 30 who made the city’s case to legislators in St. Paul, asking for the final $14.7 million to complete the last phase of the project to protect Moorhead from future floods – replacement of 11 lift stations and the final levee, still needed at 40th Avenue South.
Were they successful? The four, who make up the city council’s legislative work group, agree that the odds seem long to wrap up the project during this session. The budget submitted by Gov. Tim Walz includes just $6 million for flood mitigation statewide; here in the Red River Valley alone, the Red River Basin Commission is asking for $53 million for water districts all the way up to Winnipeg, and the Buffalo-Red Watershed District is requesting $37.7 million.
Bode noted that the possibility of appropriating more money to fatten the bonding bill has brightened, with the Minnesota Management and Budget economic forecast Feb. 29 that indicates the 2024-25 biennium is expected to end with a surplus of $3.71 billion. That’s up $1.32 billion from November projections. “One-time projects like ours could be a good play to invest those one-time funds,” she said.
Carlson observed, “We’re hopeful. We get a little bit every year.”
Hendrickson noted, “Minnesota has big-time infrastructure needs right now. It’s going to be tough. But it would be nice to get it done so that we don’t have to back year after year to make the same case.”
“We got smiles and nods of agreement,” Caroon said of their reception on what was her first trip to Moorhead’s day at the capitol, “but I don’t know if they will, or can, follow through. They’d like to help us if they can.”
The local delegation to Moorhead Area Day represented a broad slice of local interests: Sanford and Essentia, Moorhead Public Schools, the local colleges, American Crystal Sugar, Cash-Wa Distributing, Moore and AE2S engineering, Eventide, First International Bank, and the Building Industry Association of the Red River Valley. Clay County commissioner Jenny Mongeau also participated, along with a representative of the city of Dilworth, as well as the Immigrant Development Center, which is seeking support for a facility in downtown Moorhead.
The group met with nearly a dozen state senators and representatives, including District 4 Sen. Rob Kupec and 4-B Rep. Jim Joy. State government officials also joined them, including Paul Marquart, who directs the Department of Revenue, and staffers from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and the governor’s office. Minnesota Chamber of Commerce director Paul Loon, too, met with the group.
While in St. Paul, they also took part in the League of Minnesota Cities’ annual Day on the Hill, which focused on housing and related issues. The mayor returns next week for a third meeting on the hill, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities’ Legislative Action Day. Carlson is the group’s first vice president.
“We advocate hard for what we need in Moorhead,” Bode emphasizes. She frequently is called to lobby or testify throughout the sessions. “If you divide what’s appropriated by all the districts in the state, Moorhead does pretty well.”
The four agreed that some legislators have heard everything they have to say about flood mitigation before. “Some have invested a lot of time in the Capitol. But there have been a lot of retirements, so we need to continue to tell our story so that they, too, will understand what happened here in 2009 and in East Grand Forks in 1997. We keep bringing forth those images. The floods affected every aspect of life in our communities. We’re proud of how far we have come, but we still have a way to go.”
For Hendrickson, who has represented Ward 4 on the council and its legislative group for 11 years, Moorhead Area Day had few surprises; it was his eighth trip to the Capitol. But for Caroon, in her second year on the council’s legislative team, it was an eye-opening experience.
“It was very encouraging to see so much participation by business, education and health-care leaders in our community,” she commented. “We appreciate the chamber of commerce putting this much effort in on the Minnesota side of the river. It’s something we’ve been asking for.”

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