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Published November 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Forum editorial: One inch won’t stop a diversion

The deadlines associated with permanent flood control for Fargo and Moorhead firmed up last week. Other lines, specifically just how far flood planners will go to accommodate objections to a diversion option, also got clearer.

The deadlines associated with permanent flood control for Fargo and Moorhead firmed up last week. Other lines, specifically just how far flood planners will go to accommodate objections to a diversion option, also got clearer.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said local flood planners have until next summer to pick a permanent flood protection option. The options have been narrowed to a single diversion in Minnesota or North Dakota or a combination of diversions in both states. All options would provide 500-year flood protection.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker is a patient man. He listens, ponders data, often reacts calmly and tends to favor consensus. But at last week’s meeting of the Metro Flood Management Committee, the mayor’s restlessness was beginning to show. He said, as he has frequently, that permanent flood protection must be achieved sooner rather than later. But he added that the project is so important that the not-in-my-backyard attitude that afflicts many public projects cannot be tolerated. He acknowledged downstream concerns, but he and others, including officials with the corps, said everything possible will be done to minimize impacts of a Fargo-Moorhead diversion.

The mayor did not raise his voice or dismiss outright downstream concerns or the worries of the NIMBY crowd. But one need not read too deeply between the lines to understand his message: Flood protection for an urban population of more than 100,000 people will take precedence over downstream protests against “even one more inch” of floodwater.

None of the favored options is yet the final one. For example, the corps has not yet been able to crank in data to generate a favorable cost/benefit ratio for a North Dakota channel. But the corps has said that by making adjustments in the North Dakota option the ratio could be acceptable for corps funding. That process is under way but can’t be completed until local officials make at least a tentative commitment to a preferred plan.

As the process chugs along, a rather harsh reality is beginning to set in. The mayor and others alluded to it last week: A project big enough to protect Fargo and Moorhead from the Red River’s floods will displace and/or inconvenience a lot of people. The long-term protection of the cities is the overriding priority. Fears about an additional inch of water won’t stop the diversion.

Walaker was sending a message that needed to be sent.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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