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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing a Cemetery Mitigation Plan for cemeteries impacted by the FM Area Diversion Project’s Staging Area, and is planning to release a draft of the document in June. The Corps and Diversion Authority have been studying impacts on upstream cemeteries in earnest since September 2013.

The Corp’s Cemetery Study from June 2014 outlines the current impacts to area cemeteries prone to flooding and the efforts that have been successful during previous floods to mitigate the impacts. The study, which involved site visits and interviews with cemetery owners and operators, inventoried all cemeteries in the greater Fargo-Moorhead area, established points of contact, gathered information on the effects of flooding, developed a list of mitigation options, and formed the basis for development of a mitigation plan.

The study includes information from 52 cemetery sites focusing on three geographic areas:

  • Diversion Project Staging Area (7 sites)
  • Area Upstream of Staging Area (15 sites)
  • Benefited Area (Protected by the Diversion Project) (30 sites)

Cemeteries Impacted in Staging Area

Within the Staging Area, there are seven identified cemeteries which would potentially experience additional depth impacts with the Diversion Project in place ranging from 0.3 feet to 8.3 feet during a 100-year flood:

  1. Comstock Cemetery (Clay Co MN)
  2. North Pleasant Cemetery (Cass Co ND)
  3. Hemnes Cemetery (Richland Co ND)
  4. Roen Family Cemetery (Clay Co MN)
  5. Clara Cemetery (Clay Co MN)
  6. Hoff Cemetery (Clay Co MN)
  7. Lower Wild Rice and Red River Cemetery (Cass Co ND)

Upstream of the Staging Area

Upstream of the Staging Area, four cemeteries would potentially experience additional depth impacts with the Diversion Project in place ranging from 0.1 feet to 0.5 feet:

  1. South Pleasant Cemetery (Richland Co ND)
  2. South Pleasant Church Cemetery (Richland Co ND)
  3. Wolverton-Salem Lutheran Cemetery (Wilkin Co MN)
  4. Eagle Valley Cemetery (Richland Co ND)

Cemeteries Benefiting from the Diversion

The Corps of Engineers study found 30 cemeteries within or adjacent to the Diversion alignment, including 19 which would flood during a 100 year event at depths between 0.9 feet and 4.6 feet. All 19 of these cemeteries would receive protection by the Diversion Project.

The Mitigation Plan

The Federal Mitigation Plan consists of obtaining flowage easements on cemeteries within the Staging Area. Locally, the Diversion Authority is considering additional mitigation steps. According to the Corps, impacts caused by the Project do not rise to the level of a Taking under the 5th Amendment:

  • None of the induced flooding would be more frequent than once every ten years; nine of the 11 cemeteries would not have induced flooding at even the 10-year event
  • Two cemeteries with induced flooding at the 10-year event would suffer only very minor additional flooding.
  • Past flooding has caused only minimal damage to cemeteries in the area, and the induced flooding from the Project is likely to also cause only minor damage.
  • For less-frequent events (50-yr, 100-yr), impacts are of limited duration, infrequent, and would cause minimal physical damage.

In addition to obtaining the federally-required flowage easements, the Diversion Authority, as part of the Project Operation and Maintenance (O&M) Plan, can clean-up or offer assistance to clean-up the staging area (cemeteries, roads, ditches, fields, etc.) after operation of the Project, in addition to other possible mitigation. The details for this work have yet to be established.

Cemetery Site Visits: July and September 2014

Representatives of the Corps and Diversion Authority conducted site visits at all 11 impacted sites and met with cemetery representatives to hear their concerns and gather information to inform the development of the Mitigation Plan. Also present were concerned family members, church officials, caretakers, the Upstream Cemetery Authority, and members of the MnDak Upstream Coalition. Attendees’ preference for mitigation included protective berms with associated interior drainage facilities, as well as providing and maintaining access during floods.

Cultural Surveys and Rights of Entry: August 2014 to Present

Phase 1 Cultural surveys began in August 2014 and are continuing on 8 of the 11 sites.

Three sites have not granted rights-of-entry: Roen, South Pleasant Church, and Eagle Valley cemeteries.

Three sites have been determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places: Lower Wild Rice and Red River, Hemnes, and Clara cemeteries. The resulting reports serve as historic documentation of each site and are informative and impressive.

Any flood mitigation feature that would involve physically altering the cemetery site may adversely affect the historical integrity of that site, particularly in regard to integrity of design, setting, and feeling. This concern is being taken into account in the Mitigation Plan. Hemnes Cemetery is a significant historic site and is currently being threatened by river bank erosion. Per interviews with site representatives, requests for assistance from Richland County have been unsuccessful.

“These surveys are pretty important. They document the history of the site, and they are also provided to the North Dakota and Minnesota SHPOs (State Historic Preservation Offices) so that they are aware of each site,” said Terry Williams, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager.

Next Steps

Next, the Diversion Authority will be finalizing its mitigation strategy. The draft Mitigation Plan will be sent to cemetery representatives and the North Dakota and Minnesota SHPOs by June 8. The Corps is requesting comments by July 8. The Corp’s contact information will be provided in the document and cover letter. The draft Mitigation Plan will also be posted on www.fmdiversion.gov.