City Council should have to approve flood protection designs

Bias at the top. I’m a regular user of the Ann Street Bridge. I support the opening proposed by Alderman Straight. And the bridge has been a recent topic here on The Minot Voice. If you want to catch up on the story, here’s everything that’s been published.

If you didn’t know, designs for flood protection near the Ann Street Bridge are 100% complete. Those plans are now with the Corp of Engineers for review. The hope is to have this project approved and out to bid next summer. This is great news; it means flood protection is moving forward on an arc that will soon benefit valley residents.

But what I’m wondering is this: when was City Council provided with a review of those plans and given the opportunity to sign off on the final design?

Now, Alderman Schuler has voiced concern about changing plans that are already under review because of new pedestrian opening. That’s no doubt a valid consideration. Adding an opening now will require that new plans pass through a review process. It will take some time and money to do that. That’s unfortunate. Will it slow down the overall plan? That’s a question for the Souris River Joint Board.

But my bigger concern is where was the City Council oversight previously? Shouldn’t City of Minot elected officials have been given the opportunity to review and approve plans before they were sent to the Corp?

Public Works Director Dan Jonasson is the City of Minot representative on the Souris River Joint Board — that’s the organization formally sponsoring flood protection in the basin. When it comes to flood protection, he wields an enormous amount of power over the plans that will forever change this community.

What I can’t seem to find anywhere is if there is a City Council check and balance on his power?

And it’s an especially important question when we consider that Mr. Jonasson has some conflicting interests when it comes to flood protection. As Minot’s Public Works Director, he’s tasked with maintaining our City’s infrastructure — water, sewer, roads, bridges, sanitation — all of these and more are under his umbrella. Maintaining and operating flood protection infrastructure will also fall to this department.

So, as our Public Works Director, Mr. Jonasson has a direct interest in minimizing maintenance. That is an important consideration, but it’s also in conflict with citizen interests like access to green space, the river, and existing infrastructure such as the Ann Street Bridge.

Without some check and balance somewhere in the system — one individual, the City’s representative on the Souris River Joint Board — can advance a narrowly-scoped agenda through the flood protection process. One individual gets their agenda heard much louder.

That’s the nature of the beast that is flood protection by committee; we only get one person on the board. But shouldn’t that person be required to bring those plans before our elected officials before City signs off on them?

Call me old-fashioned, but a functional, effective government is one where a few checks on power are built into the equation from the start.

And in closing and as a matter of suggestion, our new City Planner, Mr. Robert Davis also joined the discussion this past Wednesday when Ann Street Bridge opening issue was in committee. He spoke from the planning and citywide-design perspective of needing to maintain these access points for citizens. Perhaps his is a voice that should become more involved in our City’s flood protection efforts to ensure that citizen interests are balanced against operational and maintenance perspective that Mr. Jonasson is most qualified to offer.

Josh Wolsky

Editor and Publisher of TheMinotVoice, Developer of the #ForMinot Network,  Co-Host of #GoodTalk Minot, Advocate and Friend of the Souris River, Former City Alderman, and clearly -- all things #MakeMinot. Go ahead, don't wait for permission!

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