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Beyond the Flood of the Century

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Disasters create disarray. Neighborhoods are likely to be torn apart. When people have lost a lot, it is hard for them to focus on issues beyond getting past the next day. Carrying on often involves taking on additional debt. This can be especially devastating to struggling businesses, to the elderly, and to families just starting out.

One of the frustrations almost every planning commissioner is familiar with is trying to deal with disgruntled citizens. In Grand Forks, where thousands of people suffered some significant loss, this was an especially stressful time for the planning commission. In times of disasters, routines are interrupted, not just for citizens, but also for government entities. Citizens can feel they are getting a run around when there’s not an instant solution to their personal problem.

After a disaster it is important to find ways to move citizens past their personal pain, and get them involved in developing options for the redevelopment and improvement of the entire community. This can build a stronger sense of community in the process.

Both the Grand Forks and East Grand Forks city governments made efforts to involve community members (and obtain their comments) as alternative redevelopment plans were being prepared. In the two cities, the mayors and city councils established advisory boards to get community input. The Grand Forks board contained leaders of the business community, while in East Grand Forks membership was more broadly based. These groups provided ideas and reacted to plans presented by the Army Corps of Engineers, city departments, and consultants.

Looking back, we believe that citizen input would have been more effective had the planning commissions taken a lead role (instead of the City Engineer and the Army Corps of Engineers). Citizen views would have been more fully considered; instead ideas were often dismissed out of hand because citizens lacked technical expertise.

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