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Published May 06, 2009, 12:00 AM

Setting lends to historic nature of flood meeting

WASHINGTON – Diane Ista emerged in her bright yellow jacket from the Senate Appropriations Committee Room and started snapping photos of the ornately decorated hallway in the U.S. Capitol.

By: Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM

WASHINGTON – Diane Ista emerged in her bright yellow jacket from the Senate Appropriations Committee Room and started snapping photos of the ornately decorated hallway in the U.S. Capitol.

The Wild Rice Watershed District chairwoman had just made history by participating in a two-hour, two-state meeting on flood protection.

Now, it was time to capture history.

“I love history,” she said. “I get just mesmerized by what our forefathers built.”

Washington’s iconic buildings and monuments provided the backdrop Tuesday for what may someday be looked upon as a landmark gathering of city, county, state and federal officials to tackle a single yet important topic: protecting the Red River Valley from flooding.

It was a fitting space for a meeting about water issues.

The 1850s-era room initially housed the Committee on Naval Affairs. Its ceiling is painted in fresco and tempera with seven Roman gods and goddesses of the sea, including Venus, Neptunus and the trident-wielding Oceanus.

U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy gave another reason why the room was fitting: The classical maidens in flowing robes adorning the walls also heard lawmakers hammer out their differences over the 2008 federal farm bill.

At that time, negotiators didn’t focus on advancing North Dakota wheat or Minnesota barley, but rather took an approach to benefit the entire region – just as officials must do in flood protection discussions, Pomeroy said.

That may be easier said than done, as foreshadowed earlier in the day when Pomeroy met with Minnesota officials who held a warmup meeting in the House Agriculture Committee hearing room, just down the hall from the office of Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

When Peterson shared concerns raised by his constituents about the impacts and cost sharing for Fargo’s proposed Southside Flood Protection Project, Pomeroy tried to assure the Minnesota contingent that both sides would receive fair treatment.

“We’re not conspiring on our side of the river,” Pomeroy told the officials as they dined on a breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage and potatoes with the Capitol dome looming through the windows.

The joint meeting took place in the appropriations room because Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairs the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Army Corps of Engineers. The federal government will fund 65 percent of corps flood protection projects, but the plans must come from local leaders, Dorgan said.

“This is a bottoms-up process,” he said, calling Tuesday’s meeting “historic” and saying it was designed to build consensus toward a plan.

Fargo city officials didn’t waste any time after the meeting, heading straight to Dorgan’s office for a late lunch and to carry on the flood protection talks with Cass County and corps officials.

Ista knew that when the sightseeing ended, her work would begin back home, too.

“Even if we have to meet weekly or whatever, we’ve got to continue the process,” she said.

Inforum searchword: flooding

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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