Red River flood damage becomes more visible

Road damage in Clay County
Water from record floods along the Red River in March and April of 2009 caused this damage to the roadbed along Clay County Highway 26.
Courtesy Clay County

Drive around on Moorhead streets and it's easy to see, and feel the damage.

There are potholes too large to avoid and in some areas the asphalt is simply pulverized.

"Some of these neighborhood streets that were actually in pretty good shape before, now are no longer," said Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger. "They've had heavy sand and clay trucks running on them."

Moorhead city street
Sections of city street in Moorhead and Fargo, N.D. were pounded to gravel because of the heavy truck traffic during the flood fight in March, 2009.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Some of the repairs that need to be made are simple potholes. According to Redlinger, in other areas there's significant breakup of asphalt and concrete.

The first priority for city crews is removing miles of temporary levees from the streets. But the damage from heavy truck traffic is extensive.

Moorhead city engineers say there's likely $20 million in damage just to city streets.

Across the Red River, in Fargo, N.D., City Administrator Pat Zavoral expects millions of dollars in repairs to streets. But much of that work can't happen yet.

The street damage can't be assessed until the levees are removed. The city sewer system can't be inspected for damage until the river is back in its banks.

"We're not sure about some of what they call the outfalls, those areas of pipe that put storm water into the river," Zavoral said. "After 1997, we had quite a few of those crushed. We'll have to do the inspection after the water goes down on those."

County road damage
Many miles of county roads, both gravel and paved, sustained significant damage from Red River flood waters in March and April of 2009. In some cases, the roadbed will have to be entirely rebuilt.
Courtesy Clay County

So how bad is the damage? How much will repairs cost?

The answer is elusive and it might be months before the cost is clear.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the preliminary estimate of public infrastructure damage in 27 Minnesota counties under a federal disaster declaration is about $28 million.

But remember, Moorhead engineers say just their city streets might cost $20 million to repair.

State lawmakers have been asking Clay County Engineer David Overbo how much the damage is going to cost.

Overbo estimates water damage to roads at about $750,000. Several bridges will need to be inspected for possible damage once the water goes down.

Water ran across roads at more than 100 locations in Clay county.

"We've got several areas where it would peel off two three feet of material, it would just disappear'" Overbo said. "We had one area of paved highway where for 500 feet it just washed the material out from underneath it and it basically just collapsed."

Claussen Springs Dam
About a half-dozen dams were damaged by high water in eastern North Dakota. This erosion led to the evacuation of a small town downstream. Helicopters dropped one-ton sandbags to save the structure.
Courtesy ND Civil Air Patrol

Running water caused much of the damage to rural roads, but less obvious according to Overbo, is the damage that's potentially more serious caused by heavy trucks hauling sand.

Spring is when many roads have weight restrictions to prevent damage. During the flood fight, those restrictions were waived by the governor.

Most of the sand to fill the millions of sandbags used in Fargo-Moorhead came from eastern Clay county.

Overbo estimates 300,000 cubic yards of sand was hauled to Fargo-Moorhead. That's about 15,000 semi truck loads in ten days.

Truck drivers took the quickest route possible.

"As our roadways fell apart we tried to talk to some of the contractors, but they just had to get it in," he said. "It was a lot of time pressure, people were panicking. We had volunteers in the area and we had to get them making the bags. Everything just had to happen. "

Up to 20 miles of county roads were damaged by heavy trucks and will need at least $2 million in repairs, according to Overbo.

Damage is even more widespread in North Dakota.

Roads, bridges, sewer systems, drainage ditches and dams have all been damaged, according to Major General David Sprynczynatyk who is director of Emergency Services.

Sprynczynatyk expects public infrastructure damage to exceed $100 million in North Dakota.

The message to local officials, he says, has been get things fixed, carefully document all the work and worry later about who pays.

"Believe it or not there are still some final details being worked out going back to 1997," said Sprynczynatyk. "So I expect after this event is all said and done, there will be some instances where it will take years to sort everything out."

During the flood fight, local, state and federal officials did what was necessary to protect lives and property. Now the bureaucracy will take over again and post flood process will take years.

Meantime, city crews in Fargo-Moorhead will be busy patching potholes and rebuilding streets.

It's likely the temporary levees on city streets in Fargo-Moorhead will be removed just in time for the start of a busy road construction season ahead.