The Gretna and Neche Ports of Entry are operating once again after essentially being shut down by overland flooding on the weekend.
A portion of North Dakota Highway 18, which accesses the border crossing, was closed to traffic after becoming submerged by water when the Pembina River spilled its banks on Friday.
The road closure has become problematic during large flood events over the past two decades, which is why the North Dakota Department of Transportation is considering the idea of raising the highway to keep traffic flowing.
Department engineer Les Noehre says NDDOT has studied the idea of raising the roadway from the Canada-U.S. border to County Road 55, a distance of about 2.5 miles. According to Noehre, such a project would require the installation of a significant number of culverts underneath the roadway to allow overland flood water to flow eastward toward the Red River in a controlled manner.
"We're looking at putting in 42-inch size culverts, so we would probably raise it two to three feet. Our model shows that we would need to install about 56 additional culverts from the Pembina River north to the border and an additional 95 culverts from the Pembina River south to County Road 55."
The study of Highway 18 is part of a larger examination by the Pembina River Basin Advisory Board, which is made up of local, state and provincial leaders from Manitoba and North Dakota who meet regularly to work together on land and water issues affecting the Pembina River Basin. The group has been tasked with developing a water management plan for the Basin and to facilitate and pursue the resolution of inter-jurisdictional issues, such as the contentious Border Road in the Rural Municipality of Rhineland.
That road acts as a dike to keep farmland on the Manitoba side dry, while farmland on the North Dakota side remains submerged under water in times of flooding. In fact, a group of area farmers in the Neche area has launched a lawsuit seeking restitution for damages caused by the road over the past decades when flooding along the River has occured.
Steven Topping, Executive Director for Manitoba Infrastructure - Water Management and Structures Division is convinced that raising Highway 18 and inserting all of those culverts would help to manage the overland flood water from the Pembina and eliminate the flood damage to North Dakota farmland.
"The impacts would be totally mitigated by putting in the appropriate number of conduits to ensure water would equalize on either side of the road, to ensure a hydraulic impact would not occur."
At this point, the plan is just pie in the sky, according to Noehre. He points out this particular project comes with an estimated price tag of $16 million, which means it won't likely happen in the near future.
"It's down the road away. How far down the road depends on economies and policy makers assigning funds and those kinds of things, but flood events can quickly change the attitudes of policy makers to provide the funds for such a project."