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Published March 18, 2009, 12:00 AM

McFeely: Brother, can you spare $2 billion?

No. 1 question being asked around Fargo-Moorhead right now, as we brace for another Red River flood: Why don’t we just build a diversion? Sorry to answer a question with a question, but: Do you have $2 billion burning a hole in your waders?

By: Mike McFeely, INFORUM

No. 1 question being asked around Fargo-Moorhead right now, as we brace for another Red River flood: Why don’t we just build a diversion?

Sorry to answer a question with a question, but: Do you have $2 billion burning a hole in your waders?

If you’re an AIG bonus baby, maybe the answer is yes. For the rest of us, not so much.

Two billion dollars: That is the figure being tossed around when talk of a dream flood diversion project – a mammoth channel running 20-odd miles around Moorhead and Dilworth in Minnesota – hits the table.

The chances of this happening? Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker says he won’t see it in his lifetime. City Administrator Pat Zavoral calls it a “pipe dream.” Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman calls the numbers “ugly.”

“Our chances of being hit with a big flood are much better than our chance of getting a diversion,” U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota said.

To understand the improbability, think about the magnitude of such a project.

The diversion would start near where the Wild Rice River enters the Red south of Fargo. It would circle north and east into Minnesota around Dilworth and reconnect with the Red somewhere between Oakport Township and Georgetown.

Preliminary projections provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would have a 500-foot-wide channel, cutting a 2,000-foot-wide footprint through prime Red River Valley farmland. The channel would be 20 to 25 feet deep.

The project would involve untold numbers of stakeholders and unprecedented cooperation between numerous government bodies – including Minnesota and North Dakota, which have never seen eye-to-eye on water projects.

The logistics are nearly as staggering as the price tag.

“You’re talking about something massive,” said Craig Evans, a project manager with the corps’ office in St. Paul.

Evans is spearheading the corps’ Fargo-Moorhead Metro Feasibility Study, started in September, which is charged with finding long-term solutions to our flood issues.

“We’re early in the process, so everything is fair game. We’re really considering everything,” Evans said. “We’ll weed things out as we go.”

The corps will study a diversion, levees, flood walls, water storage and flood-proofing individual structures. It hopes to make a recommendation in December 2010, an aggressive schedule considering the glacier-like pace of the corps.

“We are planning for a system of features to reduce flood risk in the whole metro area,” Evans said. “Such a system would likely include a mix of features, possibly levees and a diversion. The dimensions would be optimized to work cost effectively together.”

The diversion to which Evans refers is a smaller, cheaper version that would work in unison with other measures. One option is a channel in North Dakota that would start well south of Fargo and cut through the Wild Rice and Sheyenne rivers going north.

“It’s all about maximizing the cost-benefit ratio,” Pomeroy said. “That’s to protect the taxpayer.”

That means the dream scenario – could we call it Denny’s Ditch? – is probably DOA.


Forum columnist Mike McFeely can be heard from 1-2 p.m. Monday through Friday on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com. McFeely’s blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/mcfeely

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