Dayton wants all work on F-M diversion stopped; governor claims 'major feature' of project is to protect economic development
ST. PAUL – Gov. Mark Dayton is urging the federal government to stop its work on Fargo-Moorhead’s flood diversion plan, including any approval of funding, until Minnesota can complete an environmental review of the $1.8 billion project.
Dayton made his request in a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, an assistant secretary of the Army who oversees the Army Corps of Engineers’ civil works program. He wrote that he has serious concerns about the project that would create a 36-mile channel to divert floodwater around the metro area. Congress has authorized the diversion plan but has not yet funded it.
“The Fargo area will receive over 90 percent of the Project’s benefits, including the protection for future economic development of an undeveloped flood plain on the south side of Fargo,” Dayton said in his letter dated Thursday. “In fact, a major feature of the Project’s design appears to be the flooding of Minnesota (and North Dakota) farmland in order to assure North Dakota developers that their investments will be safeguarded.”
Darrell Vanyo, chairman of the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority, said Dayton’s letter seems to stretch the truth about the project that will protect 200,000 residents.
“It would really be desirable if Gov. Dayton could meet with the Corps of Engineers and get firsthand the information about the diversion – what it is and what it isn’t,” Vanyo said.
In his letter, Dayton objected to construction that began in June in North Dakota on the Oxbow-Bakke-Hickson ring levee south of Fargo. “Given that land’s elevation, it is highly unlikely that this levee has independent utility separate from the construction of the overall Project,” the governor wrote.
Dayton’s letter said Minnesota expects to complete its environmental review in the late fall of 2015, a later date than previously reported. And because the review is not done, Dayton believes that construction of the $65 million ring levee is a violation of Minnesota law.
The Diversion Authority maintains that the ring levee is independent of the diversion plan, saying it’s needed to protect flood-prone areas regardless of whether the diversion is built.
Wilkin County in Minnesota and Richland County in North Dakota have joined to file a federal lawsuit to block construction of a feature of the diversion called upstream storage that would temporarily hold water over 32,500 acres in the event of a severe flood. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources joined that lawsuit after construction on the ring dike started.
Nathan Berseth, spokesman for the MnDak Upstream Coalition, which opposes the diversion plan, said Dayton’s letter was a refreshing affirmation of what his group has said all along.
“We want to see flood protection for Fargo, but we don’t want to see it for land development south of Fargo,” he said. “This plan could be altered and still protect the city of Fargo and its existing infrastructure with a lot less detriment to those folks upstream.”
The governor’s letter specifically asks federal authorities to hold off “endorsing federal funding, issuing federal permits, and providing construction assistance to the Diversion Authority” until Minnesota’s environmental review is finished. Vanyo said none of those three steps has begun. The federal share of the project is expected to be $800 million.
Vanyo said he was surprised by Dayton’s letter because two days before it was sent, Diversion Authority representatives met with DNR officials, and there was no talk about the issues raised in the letter. He said Dayton was not at the meeting and that the discussion centered on the funding of Minnesota’s environmental review.
Earlier this month, when Dayton’s spokesman Matthew Swenson was asked about whether Dayton is willing to try to resolve the dispute through negotiation, Swenson told The Forum that the governor and his administration will “do everything to ensure that Minnesota’s best interests are not trampled” by the diversion project.
On Monday, Swenson said the governor’s office has not yet received a response to the letter sent to Darcy.