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Published February 17, 2010, 12:00 AM

F-M leaders: Economy of entire region at risk if river diversion isn't built

Fargo-Moorhead officials expressed a willingness to seek flood control that does not inundate downstream communities, but stressed that the metro area must have protection from a 500-year flood for the good of the entire region.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

Fargo-Moorhead officials expressed a willingness to seek flood control that does not inundate downstream communities, but stressed that the metro area must have protection from a 500-year flood for the good of the entire region.

The expressed desire to work with downstream communities came following action Monday by the Minnesota House on a bonding bill.

A provision that passed the House would forbid state money for a Fargo-Moorhead diversion channel unless federal officials take steps to prevent more flooding downstream.

But Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said Tuesday he feels comfortable with a promise by the measure’s author, Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, to negotiate with Fargo-Moorhead officials and fellow legislators to arrive at a solution that works for all.

“He absolutely does not want to stop this project,” Marquart said of Eken, whose promise was made on the House floor Monday night and in later conversations.

“I’m not concerned about this,” Marquart added. “I think this is the exact message we went to send, and have to take downstream communities into account.”

Engineers have said a diversion is the only cost-effective way to protect Fargo-Moorhead against a 500-year flood, the level the cities have targeted.

In the event of a flood of that magnitude, regardless of what Fargo-Moorhead does in the name of flood protection, areas downstream will be inundated as the Red River pours out of its banks, said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker.

“They have to understand, in a 500-year flood everybody will be an island,” he said. Walaker later added: “There is no way we’re going to make Fargo and Moorhead safer without a diversion.”

A working group of local officials in Fargo-Moorhead studying permanent flood solutions has approved engineering studies to identify upstream sites where water could be stored to minimize or negate the downstream effects of a diversion.

Preliminary results of the engineering analysis should be available by early March, Walaker said. Water storage equaling 400,000 to 600,000 acres to a level of 1 foot might reduce flooding on the Red River by 2 feet, he said, adding, “You need a lot of sites.”

Kevin Campbell, chairman of the Clay County Commission and co-chairman of the flood solutions working group, believes there is support to address the impacts a diversion would have downstream.

But Campbell agreed with Walaker that Fargo and Moorhead need 500-year flood protection, saying the economy of the entire region would suffer if the cities were devastated.

“I believe it would be irresponsible of this state to not assist us in a project of this magnitude,” he said. “They’re talking about a catastrophic event for Fargo-Moorhead, and that’s unacceptable.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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