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Browns Valley wraps up first phase of project

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Browns Valley wraps up first phase of project
Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

The first signs of flood protection are showing in Browns Valley, Minn., signs that may serve as an example to other border cities grappling with how to protect and please numerous stakeholders.

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"I've heard it's been the fastest-starting flood diversion project in the state of Minnesota," Mayor Jeff Backer Jr. said. "What we saw was a cooperative effort we've never seen before."

After two years of planning, the first phase of a two-part flood diversion project is wrapping up in the small town of 650 people that hugs the Minnesota and South Dakota border 100 miles south of Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn.

Six months after breaking ground late last May, two bridges and a 200-foot wide, mile-long channel are nearly complete, slowing down and diverting water from the Little Minnesota River southeast of the city.

The second phase, limiting the amount of water in the diversion, is slated to start early next year and completed in November.

"Every flood I've ever seen, the community would not have suffered if it had this diversion project," Backer said. "It's a great feeling."

It wasn't easy to get to this point.

It took 20 years of negotiating with land owners to buy their land for flood control structures.

It took negotiating with two states, three counties and several agencies.

And it took major flooding in 2007 that devastated more than half of the town to get everybody on board.

"The more people that are involved, the more power you have to get the funding," said Dianne Radermacher of the Upper Minnesota River Watershed District, the project's sponsor. "That was a big part of it."

The proposed $6 million project ended up costing only $3.9 million thanks to lower-than-expected bids and officials scaling back the project.

While about 85 percent of construction is in South Dakota, no money came from the state because Minnesota will see most of the project's benefits. About 90 percent of funding came from Minnesota, while the rest came from federal sources.

Backer now hopes their story is an example for Fargo-Moorhead.

"There was animosity, challenges, people were saying 'no way, it cannot be done,' same thing F-M's going through," he said. "I think it's really a model for F-M in saying, can it be done? Yes. Is it going to be a heck of a lot of work? Is it well worth it? Yes."

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