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State should make flood control money a priority

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Across much of Minnesota, emergency management officials and homeowners are breathing small sighs of relief. For now, it appears that dire predictions of record-setting floods won't become reality. 

Of course, Minnesota isn't out of the woods yet. Once our current cold snap breaks and last week's heavy snowfall up north begins to melt, we'll be just one early-April thunderstorm away from big problems in St. Paul, Wabasha, Stillwater, Red Wing and dozens of other communities.

But not in Rochester. Time after time, nature has taken her best shot at our system of dams, reservoirs and concrete-lined river channels. These structures have always been up to the task, to the point where most of us barely pay attention to what the Zumbro River or Bear Creek might be doing in Rochester. They rise, they fall. We fill no sandbags. We build no earthen dams. We simply look down at the water rushing by, and perhaps mutter an occasional "Thank goodness for flood control!"

Rochester's voter-approved local-option sales tax paid for roughly one-fourth of this $117 million project, and it's safe to say that never has a local tax dollar been better spent. Indeed, our flood-control system is the gold standard by which all other bonding- or sales-tax-funded proposals are measured in Rochester.

That's why we support the passage of a bonding bill that would help move the ball forward for other flood-prone cities in Minnesota, including Austin, Moorhead, Albert Lea and Rushford. In fact, we believe that this funding should be at the top of the state's bonding priority list.

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Think about how much time and money is consumed each year in the often-futile attempt to keep rivers at bay using temporary measures. In Moorhead alone, the city is spending $795,000 just to buy and fill the 1 million sandbags needed to protect 200 vulnerable properties from the Red River's annual ravages. Those sandbags later have to be removed and disposed of, and that isn't cheap, either.

And that's before we even consider the toll floods take on public and private property. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have never walked into a basement or first floor that's covered with mud, debris and raw sewage will have a hard time grasping the magnitude of the heartbreak.

For these reasons, we believe any and all financial options should be considered for communities that are looking for help and are willing to invest some of their own money in flood control. Bonding dollars are a good option, and we don't oppose Rep. Steve Drazkowski's idea of using "Legacy"  dollars for flood mitigation — including buyouts of properties that are particularly flood-prone. Granted, that's a stretch from the original intent of the clean water constitutional amendment, but if a flood-prone home is removed and replaced by prairie grass, that can't help but make the river nearby a little bit cleaner, right?

Sometimes the best way to "control" a flood is to remove the homes that lie in the danger zone, and then let the river have its way.

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