Families fear intentional ND cemeteries flooding

Published 9:56 am Wednesday, May 28, 2014

WILD RICE, N.D. — Lillian Johnson has buried her husband and other family members in a tiny southeastern North Dakota cemetery that would be threatened by a flood protection project meant to save the state’s largest city. The 90-year-old plans to join her loved ones someday, come hell or high water.

Johnson is among a group of mostly rural and small-town residents opposed to a proposed channel that would move water around the Fargo area in times of serious flooding and would instead inundate farmland and other rural areas, including at least six cemeteries.

Measures proposed so far to spare the cemeteries — including moving or anchoring graves or building dikes around the sites — aren’t sitting well with family members.

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“There’s something about a cemetery, you just can’t do that to it. It’s just too much,” Johnson said. “And people are there and this is their final resting place and it’s a place to come home to. I just don’t see it.”

The 36-mile diversion would move water from the north-flowing Red River around Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota, which battled major flooding for three straight years starting with a record crest in 2009. Backers of the nearly $2 billion plan say it’s the only way to save North Dakota’s largest city from an eventual catastrophic event.

The U.S. House and Senate last week approved authorization for the project, but that doesn’t include funding.

Opponents have filed a federal lawsuit asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to design a cheaper project that doesn’t call for rural flooding. In the meantime, a group representing 16 North Dakota and Minnesota cemeteries are wondering what will happen to their gravesites.