The waiting game has once again begun with the release of the Minnesota's DNR's environment impact study on Plan B. The study paves the way for the DNR to determine whether the mammoth diversion of the Red River can be permitted under Minnesota law. The chief change in the project proposal from the first plan is to extend the dam along the west side of Minnesota's Highway 75 to the Clay/Wilkin county line. The result would be a larger percentage of the staging area in North Dakota.
After discounting all other alternatives, the two options left on the table are Plan B and a no action alternative with emergency measures. If you remember the first environmental impact study process, the two final alternatives were the original proposal and the no action alternative. That study ultimately resulted in a permit denial.
The current study identifies areas of controversy that will determine whether a permit will be issued. They are the balance of impacts, the amount of sparsely populated area removed from the floodplain, compliance with local ordinances, and impact to aquatic life and the environment.
It says significant improvements have been made with the first two, but not so much with the others. The analysis of some of these items are straight forward, but others are more complicated.
A common observation of both impact statements is that the story seems to be told largely from the Diversion Authority's perspective. The content of the first study led many, including North Dakota politicians, to declare the permit a slam dunk. A reading of the 90-page permit denial cast a shadow on whether the DNR viewed the study contents the same way as project proponents.
Many upstream opponents of Plan B disagree with statements made in the study. Diversion Authority documents indicate there has not been a significant reduction in the scope of the project. Although there is some reduction in area removed from the floodplain, much of the reduction comes from reducing the size of the existing floodplain by viewing it from an historical perspective, rather than the higher, artificial 100-year flood created by the Army Corps to justify the project. Nothing concrete really changed.
Local laws of Wilkin County, Holy Cross Township and the Buffalo Red Watershed District seem to be at odds with Plan B. They have also not figured out how to avoid environmental damage by running aquatic life through two dams and 34 miles of diversion channel.
The environmental impact study is another step in the process with an unknown outcome. Impacted resident's views don't seem to be incorporated into the plan. The DNR is taking comments from the public until Sept. 27th. There will be a meeting where the public's comments can be heard at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 13th at the Courtyard Marriott, 1080 28th Avenue S., Moorhead. Everyone who has a concern should make an effort to take part. The decision making process will ultimately reach an end. We need to make certain it's one that everyone can live with.
Hertsgaard lives in Kindred, N.D. He wrote this piece with other members of the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority editorial team.