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F-M Diversion Authority to offer top job to D.C. project manager

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FARGO – One of the things Jay Neider said in his job interview that impressed Tim Mahoney, chairman of the  Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority, was how Neider sat down for coffee with a farmer opposed to his highway project.

Neider, who was offered the job of executive director by the authority board Thursday, Aug. 31, was then a “mega projects” director for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The farmer, worried about drainage, was adamant about not selling land for the highway until Neider talked to him, said Mahoney, who’s also mayor of Fargo. “When they finished the project, they had an apple pie and coffee at this guy’s house because they did it the way that made the most sense for his farmstead.”

That’s the sort of communication skill Mahoney suggested would be an asset to the Diversion Authority as it continues work on Fargo-Moorhead’s $2.2 billion flood control project. Here, too, there are farmers opposed to the project.

Neider was the unanimous pick of authority board members, several of whom said at a Thursday meeting that they were comfortable with him from the start. He was not present at the meeting.

The other finalists are Scott Higbee, former project manager for CH2M Hill, and Melodee Loyer, water administrator for the city of Tucson, Ariz.

Negotiating salary

The board met in closed session Thursday to decide a strategy for negotiating Neider’s compensation.

He now makes $177,000 a year as director of a commuter rail expansion project in the Washington, D.C., area so the authority would likely have to top that, Mahoney said.

The board settled on a salary range and benefits plan consistent with the job market, but Mahoney wouldn’t go into details to preserve the authority’s negotiating position.

Board members said Thursday before voting to extend the job offer to Neider that they like how up to speed he already is.

Rodger Olson, also a board member with the Cass County Joint Water Resource District, said he was impressed with Neider’s plan for the first 100 days.

That plan includes reviewing how many city and county staff members as well as consultants are actually needed for the diversion project.

Mahoney told The Forum Neider was “very astute” to pick up on the authority board’s concerns about the cost of potentially redundant services or people sitting in on meetings they don’t need to. Without a dedicated executive director, the authority hasn’t been able to tackle the issue, he said.

“A lot of times, you worry about a guy coming in from the outside not really knowing where he has to go or what he has to do,” Mahoney said. “He had 10, 20 things that he had down for us to look at. It's exactly what we expected to do, so he had the grasp or sense of what job is.”

‘Mega projects’

In searching for someone to fill the Diversion Authority’s top administrative position, board members had said they required an engineer with experience managing big projects costing $500 million or more who understands the public-private partnership, or P3, funding model used by the Authority.

Neider, a Wisconsin native, came to the Hampton Roads area in southeast Virginia in 2014 to oversee big state transportation projects, according to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Va. The biggest was a $2.1 billion project that includes a new underwater Midtown Tunnel, improvements of existing tunnels and a freeway extension. His main task was ensuring the private project partner, Elizabeth River Crossing, followed the contract.

Like the diversion project, the Hampton Roads project used P3 financing. Elizabeth River Crossing was brought on to finance, build and operate the project in exchange for tunnel tolls. The Diversion Authority is seeking a private partner to do the same for the flood diversion, but the partner would be repaid with sales tax revenues

The Midtown Tunnel opened in fall 2016. Neider was with the Virginia Department of Transportation until September 2015, according to his LinkedIn page.

He next went to work for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in Herndon, Va., as a project director of a $2.8 billion commuter rail extension, financed with government funds not P3. It will extend the Metrorail by 11 miles into Washington’s northeastern suburbs when completed in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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