GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) -- Area officials gathered Monday near the banks of the Red River, after it rose about 10 feet above flood stage, to break ground for a $360 million dike project.
Mayor Pat Owens said the timing seemed appropriate. The river's latest rise can ''remind us of where we can be and where we've been,'' she said.
The dike project was developed after the 1997 Red River flood that swamped Grand Forks and neighboring East Grand Forks, Minn., forcing residents of the two cities out of their homes.
This year's rise in the river, brought on by heavy rain, was not expected to cause problems. But recent flooding in western Grand Forks County, Fargo and northwestern Minnesota brought back memories for many in Grand Forks.
City engineer Ken Vein remembered the helpless feelings he and Gary Sanders, his East Grand Forks counterpart, shared three years ago when their cities could not be saved from flooding.
''All we could do was watch the inevitable happen,'' Vein said.
''This (dike) project changes that,'' he said. ''Not only will it protect us from mainstream flooding, it also will protect us from overland flooding.''
He said the dike protection can be increased for floods worse than the one in 1997.
''This change will help us tremendously as we continue to grow and expand in the future,'' he said.
Most of the work on the dike project this year will deal with modifying the area's Riverside Dam and removing a walking bridge that links Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Actual levee construction is not expected to start until next year. The project is expected to be finished by 2006.
''None of the other recovery projects we have undertaken over the past few years will have as much of an impact on our futures as this project will,'' Owens said.
East Grand Forks Mayor Lynn Stauss said the project is needed so that ''the growth of our communities can continue together.''
Owens prepared to turn the mayor's job over this week to Michael Brown, a Grand Forks doctor who defeated her in the June primary election. She was given a ceremonial key to East Grand Forks, her hometown, and a membership in North Dakota's mythical navy.
The navy was created by Gov. William Guy in the 1960s to honor people who help manage state water resources.
Owens, who has worked for the city more than 30 years, including her term as mayor, is known as the ''flood mayor.'' But she said she would rather be remembered as someone who is ''dedicated, heart and soul, to the community.''
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