Dayton hears diversion concerns in packed Moorhead chambers
MOORHEAD – At a standing-room-only meeting Wednesday in the chambers of the Moorhead City Council, Gov. Mark Dayton listened to the concerns of local leaders and residents about the metro area’s proposed flood diversion project.
Heidi Durand, a Moorhead council member, told the governor that in the planning of the diversion, Minnesota’s views are not being heard. And the project is moving forward before the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has completed its environmental review of the project, she said, referring to construction that’s begun on a ring levee around the North Dakota communities of Oxbow, Bakke and Hickson.
“We need to make sure that we’re following state law,” she said. “My concern is that we have been ignored.”
Last month, Dayton urged the federal government to stop its work on the diversion plan, including any approval of funding, until Minnesota’s environmental review is finished. Because the review is not done, Dayton has said he believes that construction of the ring levee, which he considers to be part of the diversion project, is a violation of Minnesota law.
Darrell Vanyo, chairman of the Diversion Authority, attended the meeting, and he took the podium to say that the Diversion Authority started work on the levee in June after learning from the DNR that it had no legal jurisdiction to stop construction of the levee.
Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Moorhead, said there’s agreement that the Fargo-Moorhead area needs permanent flood protection, but he noted that a project of this scope requires consensus.
“If all the government officials are not on the same page, the project is doomed for failure,” he told the crowd. “The Diversion Authority simply needs to change its tactics.”
On Tuesday, Dayton met with officials and residents in Breckenridge, and many there voiced fears that the $1.8 billion project, a 36-mile channel that would divert major floodwaters around the metro area and temporarily submerge swaths of land to the south, would negatively affect farmland.
Clay County Commissioner Jon Evert, who represents the southern half of the county, echoed those concerns at the Moorhead meeting. “The current plan is entirely too damaging to my community,” he said. “There’s just too many unanswered questions.”
After the meeting, Dayton expressed a need for cooperation on both sides of the Red River. “We’re linked together by businesses and people and also just by geography, so we have to work this out,” he told reporters.
Dayton said he plans to eventually meet with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Diversion Authority to discuss the project. “If you don’t create those working relationships, it’s going to be just gridlock and, I think, deadlock,” he said.
The governor had been invited to meet with the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, but he said a lack of time prevented him from doing so Wednesday. Chamber President Craig Whitney said his organization had hoped to brief the governor on the project and let him hear from chamber members about the importance of flood protection.
“We were disappointed that we didn’t have a response from his office, but we were happy to see that he did come to Moorhead,” Whitney said, adding that the Chamber’s invitation to Dayton still stands.