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Bill to save Drayton dikes likely to be passed in April, Hoeven staff say

A view of the Red River as it winds through Drayton Tuesday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

DRAYTON, N.D.—A bill that would allow Drayton to keep its dikes won't be approved this year as expected, but a U.S. senator from North Dakota is confident his legislation will be passed before the deadline to remove the dikes comes around in April.

Congress has adjourned for the year and won't meet again until Jan. 3, meaning it can't act on any bills until then. That includes Republican Sen. John Hoeven's Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act for 2017, which contains a subsection that allows for the construction of earthen levees by state, local or tribal governments on covered hazard mitigation land under certain conditions. The levees must be part of a flood control project, be constructed of naturally occurring materials and conform to other criteria established by the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

The subsection is meant to help cities keep dikes it has built. Such is the case in Drayton, where earthen dikes have been built along the Red River. The dikes have protected the town of about 800 residents five times since the 1997 flood, according to city leaders.

Sixteen parcels were sold to the city of Drayton as part of a buyout program after the 1997 flood. Though the city owns the dikes, FEMA oversees the deed-restricted parcels and has authority over what can go on those open spaces. FEMA policy says no structures that may add to the threat of flooding can be built on the properties—there are exceptions, such as picnic tables or pavilions.

The city didn't realize that included the dikes, which were supposed to be taken down shortly after the flood. That didn't happen and, in 2014, the city was informed the dikes, some of which were built before the parcels were bought out, violate FEMA policy.

With FEMA arguing the levees served as anecdotal protection and presented a public safety concern, it ordered multiple deadlines for the removal, including on Oct. 12.

Though Hoeven was aware of the problem, he said Herald coverage prompted him to contact Roy Wright, FEMA's deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation, in an effort to extend the deadline to April 12.

Hoeven initially said he thought the bill would pass before the end of the year, but his staff said he is confident the legislation will be passed in April, when a previous bill regarding Department of Homeland Security appropriations expires.

"In the meantime, we will work with FEMA next year to ensure Drayton is taken care of until the legislation passes," Hoeven spokesman Don Canton wrote in an email to the Herald.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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