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6-month extension for dike removal approved for Drayton

DRAYTON, N.D.--The city of Drayton will have more time to remove dikes from federally owned land, and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is working on legislation to keep the flood protection there permanently.

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Agweek

DRAYTON, N.D.-The city of Drayton will have more time to remove dikes from federally owned land, and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is working on legislation to keep the flood protection there permanently.

Hoeven's office announced Thursday Roy Wright, a deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, gave his verbal approval to extend the deadline to take down the earthen dikes that sit on 16 parcels of land FEMA purchased from Drayton homeowners after the 1997 flood. The city worked out a plan with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services to remove the dikes by Oct. 12, a plan that was approved by FEMA, but the extension would move that deadline to April 12, 2017.

Hoeven also has drafted legislation that would allow the levees to stay on the property and other cities along the Red River, including Fargo, as long as the "construction constitutes part of a flood control project, is constructed of naturally occurring materials and conforms to other criteria as established by FEMA policy." Hoeven expects the legislation to be approved as a law by the end of the year.

It's great news for residents in Drayton, said Peter Anderson, president of KodaBank in Drayton.

"From the city of Drayton's standpoint, I don't think we could be more thankful," Anderson said. "I think everyone is pleased even with the six-month extension because it'll give us more time to put something together."

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Dike dilemma

The Drayton levees, some of which were there before FEMA purchased lots through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, have protected the city from floodwaters at least five times, according to city documents. City officials agreed to not place structures that would interfere with waterflow on FEMA's property.

But it wasn't until 2014 that the city discovered the dikes needed to be removed because they were not compliant with FEMA regulations because dikes were considered structures by FEMA.

There are some rare cases in which structures, such as picnic tables and pavilions, may be allowed in open spaces on deed restricted properties as long as they don't "materially add to the threat" of flooding, said Jerry DeFelice, an external affairs spokesman with FEMA's Region VIII in Denver.

The state Emergency Services Department notified FEMA in July 2014 about the levees, according to correspondence. Citing open spaces requirements, the state informed Drayton the dikes must be removed. Documents show attempts to resolve the issue, but the city ultimately drew up a correction plan to have the dikes removed, DeFelice said.

"The way the community could come into compliance is to remove the dikes," he said. "You can draw that conclusion, but we didn't write that plan. They developed it as to what they were going to do, when they were going to do it."

The dikes were built as temporary structures, meaning they were supposed to be taken down 60 days after being constructed, DeFelice said, but that didn't happen.

Residents argue the dikes protect the city from flooding, but FEMA ruled they serve as anecdotal protection, DeFelice said, adding there is a public safety concern, especially since they have reportedly leaked in several spots.

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"Yeah, there have been instances where they have provided protection, but it is an unknown level of protection and it's prone to failure," he said.

Legislative fix

Hoeven began working on legislation to keep the levees standing after taking office in 2011. Similar legislation called the FEMA Common Sense previously failed in the U.S. House, but this version, which is attached to an appropriations bill, should pass, Hoeven said, adding FEMA supports his legislation.

"They recognize it makes a lot of sense," Hoeven said. "It makes our collective resources go further and it's part of enhancing flood protection, not, in essence, building structures in a floodway."

FEMA typically does not comment on pending legislation, DeFelice said, and it's uncertain whether the levees would meet the agency's requirements as they stand. Wright, the administrator, was unavailable for comment.

Hoeven's staff learned about the Drayton dike dilemma about a year ago, his spokesman Don Canton said.

"Clearly, if you have a dike or levee that can help prevent flooding, you want to allow that," Hoeven said.

A formal request for the extension will have to be submitted by the city to the state Emergency Services Department, which will then make a request to FEMA to approve the dikes.

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