Sitting on a surplus, North Dakota wants federal funds to pay for floods

AP Photo/POOL,Sue Ogrocki
AP Photo/POOL,Sue Ogrocki

This is one of those stories that might make you a little mad.

North Dakota is asking folks to help fill a million sandbags by April 13 to stop the Red River from flooding it’s biggest cities. Forecasters say there’s a 10% chance the river will flood this year, but local mayors and the governor want to prepare for the “worst.”

In 1997, the Red River crested at almost 41 feet and residents only had eight days to fill two-and-a-half million sandbags.  At least 17 people died that spring and 123,000 head of cattle perished. North Dakota spent millions to rebuild.

Here’s the frustrating part: the same area flooded again in 2009:

And then the Red River flooded again in 2011, although it wasn’t as bad (FEMA’s come to the rescue every time).

Now, it would make sense for North Dakota and the counties and the cities in the Red River Valley to build a flood diversion and prevention system.  But long-time Republicans like House Majority Leader Al Carlson say they won’t spend any money until the federal government ponies up more cash.  Last month, Rep. Carlson told one interviewer:

“How much money do you want from the state and how should it be distributed and should we go forward with this project without federal dollars or final approvals?”

Rep. Carlson says he won’t spend a dime of  North Dakota’s money on flood prevention until he’s sure the federal government can pick up a huge portion of the tab.  By the way, North Dakota’s sitting on a $1.6 billion budget surplus projected over the next two years because of the recent drilling boom.

Maybe Rep. Carlson doesn’t remember the nearly $233 million the federal government spent to help North Dakota’s biggest city recover from the disaster in 1997.

Six years later, the federal government spent an additional $165 million on disaster relief for the same flood-prone area in the Red River Valley. And two years later, the federal government spent another $18 million helping North Dakota after the same area flooded again.

Let’s do some rough math for Rep. Al Carlson now: Almost $233 million in 1997, plus another $165 million in 2009 and $18 million in 2011, gives us a grand total of $415.9 million from the federal government, and that’s just for the past 3 floods.

The Red River’s been flooding for more than a hundred years. This is a picture of some of the cabins floating down the Red River in April of 1897.

But Rep. Carlson doesn’t want to spend a single penny on flood prevention for his own state until he’s sure the federal government will pitch in what he thinks is our “fair share” of flood abatement.

Cass County and the cities of Fargo and Moorhead have already raised sales taxes and they’re waiting for Carlson and his fellow Republicans to let them start building a nearly $2 billion flood-proofing project. State and local governments will reportedly pay $377 million for flood protection.

Rep. Carlson wants the rest of the American tax payers to spend $1.4 billion more.

While the Red River threatens North Dakota’s most populous cities, a major city up river doesn’t worry about the flooding anymore.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted this picture last week showing Winnipeg’s flood abatement project.  He wrote, “The river floodway diversion looks smart from space.” We agree. It does look “smart.”

Sitting on a surplus, North Dakota wants federal funds to pay for floods