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Published October 20, 2009, 12:00 AM

Moorhead flood meeting puts focus on diversion plans

A North Dakota diversion, or a Minnesota diversion?

By: Dave Olson, INFORUM

A North Dakota diversion, or a Minnesota diversion?

The possibility of either one dominated the thoughts of Fargo-Moorhead area officials Monday after they heard an update on potential flood-protection projects.

“I’m really happy to see that a diversion is looking like the preferable way we’re going to find flood protection,” Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said after a presentation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Voxland said what is not clear is which side of the Red River a diversion should be built on if local officials choose a diversion as the best way to combat flooding in the area.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker echoed Voxland.

“The process is leading toward a diversion. Whether it’s on the Minnesota side or the North Dakota side, that’s what has to be debated,” Walaker said.

Federal threshold

Of the options the corps has studied, officials said the smallest version of what is being called the “Minnesota short diversion” carries the best benefit-to-cost ratio of 1.22.

That option has a price tag of about $962 million.

Of that cost, the federal government could cover $625 million, and corps officials said it’s possible federal participation in any diversion project would be capped at that number.

The federal government won’t consider funding a project if its benefit-to-cost ratio is less than 1.

While none of the diversion projects discussed for North Dakota have reached that threshold, officials say additional research could place those projects in the running.

Estimates put the cheapest North Dakota diversion option at about $1.3 billion.

Cass County Commissioner Scott Wagner said a North Dakota diversion represents the most comprehensive solution to flood-protection needs, and he said it’s too early to settle on a specific option.

“I think it (a North Dakota diversion) deserves a little more scrutiny,” Wagner said.

Tight schedule

Monday’s meeting in Moorhead was attended by North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, as well as U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan and U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota’s Congressional delegation.

Pawlenty stressed that local officials must choose an option by December. He questioned whether a decision could be reached by then.

Clay County Commissioner Kevin Campbell said a task force of area officials will meet the deadline.

“If we have to meet every day, I’ll be there,” Campbell said.

After the meeting, Campbell said he has an idea where a diversion should go, but he said the ultimate decision will be based on what’s best for the entire Fargo-Moorhead community.

“Would I rather see it on the North Dakota side? Sure,” he said. “But at the same point, we still need to make sure we have the federal interest. The federal interest will dictate where it goes.”

Regardless of where a diversion may be located, “you’re probably going to get equal opposition from landowners,” he said.

Under the timetable presented Monday, construction on a project could begin in 2012.

Impact on local plans

Part of Fargo’s plans for what is known as the Southside Flood Control Project will likely be put on hold until it becomes clearer which corps project is chosen, Walaker said.

Corps officials said Monday if a North Dakota diversion is chosen, there would be no need for many of the flood-control projects Fargo is contemplating.

Voxland said regardless of which corps option is picked, Moorhead will move ahead with its short-term flood-control plans, which include increasing the number of gates on stormwater outlets to the Red River, which will prevent backup in times of high water.

If a federal flood-protection project is started in 2012, it could take four or more years beyond that before protection is in place, officials said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

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