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Fargo picks up flood fight, Moorhead stands down

ColtIvers16-year-old high school sophomore hauls sandbags around dike his family home Moorhead Minn. Thursday Feb. 25 2013. Unlike neighboring Fargo

Colton Iverson, a 16-year-old high school sophomore, hauls sandbags around the dike of his family home in Moorhead, Minn., Thursday, Feb. 25, 2013. Unlike neighboring Fargo, N.D., where 200 homes might need sandbagging, the Iverson house is one of seven in Moorhead that needs added protection from Red River flooding. (AP Photo/Dave Kolpack)

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MOORHEAD, Minn. (AP) — While Fargo, N.D., keeps a steady eye on floodgates this weekend, neighboring Moorhead, Minn., will welcome Bill Gates.

Both cities sit along the banks of the rising Red River, but there are stark differences when it comes to protecting the metro area’s nearly 200,000 residents from what’s expected to be one of the top five all-time floods in the area.

Fargo may have to sandbag for more than 200 homes. Moorhead is starting with a handful of houses, most of which should be complete in time for Saturday morning’s speech by Microsoft founder Gates at Concordia College.

“It will be just another day living in Moorhead,” Mayor Mark Voxland said Thursday, “rather than going through flood prep.”

After three straight major floods, the first in 2009, Fargo and Moorhead have tried to shore up flood protection efforts.

Moorhead, a city of 40,000, is located on higher ground and it was faced with fewer homes to buy out and fewer permanent levees to build. It has committed $88 million to flood-proofing projects since 2009, compared to the 110,000-resident Fargo that before this flood fight spent $107 million since 1997. Fargo’s number has risen in the last month, including several buyouts in upmarket neighborhoods.

“Every year that has gone by there’s been that much more mitigation investment and that much more relief from sandbag need and temporary measures,” said Michael Redlinger, Moorhead’s city manager.

Moorhead placed about 2.5 million sandbags in 2009. The starting point this year is about 33,000 bags, though Voxland said only a few residents have requested them.

Many are waiting for a specific crest prediction from the National Weather Service. The Red River began spilling its banks early Thursday morning when it went over the flood stage of 18 feet. The weather service said it could hit 38 feet by next Thursday, but have only predicted a crest range and not a drop-dead height and date for the peak.

“It’s a bit of a wait-and-see right now,” Voxland said. “But it’s pretty quiet.”

The mayor knew of only two homeowners in Moorhead that have begun placing sandbags.

Colton Iverson, 16, was working on the final layer of a 2,500-bag dike behind his family home in central Moorhead, where many neighboring houses have been bought out by the city.

Colton’s reward for sandbagging? “Hah,” he said Thursday. “Lunch?”

The Moorhead High School sophomore said he was more than happy to help protect the home, which was first owned by his grandparents.

“The yard is great,” he said, looking out at an area the size of football field. “It’s a fantastic house. It’s nice and big.”

Friday is Defense Day in Fargo, where hundreds of high school students are getting out of school to place 100,000 sandbags around the city.

Voxland said he’s rooting for Fargo to hold back the high waters, but added that he’s happy his city is “getting out of the flood business.”

The mayor also pointed out that Moorhead high school students will be in class on Friday.

“It’s nice to have those people who paid good money to have educations stay in school,” he said. “There isn’t that crushing need to get something extraordinary done.”

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Follow Dave Kolpack on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/davekolpackap



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