Big spending is planned this year for F-M diversion

FARGO - Spending on the Fargo-Moorhead flood-diversion project is expected to accelerate this fiscal year to an amount nearly three times larger than what's been spent so far.

FARGO – Spending on the Fargo-Moorhead flood-diversion project is expected to accelerate this fiscal year to an amount nearly three times larger than what’s been spent so far.

Most of the $224.2 million budgeted for fiscal year 2015 will go toward dikes along the Red River in Fargo and the ring dike around the Oxbow-Hickson-Bakke area, according to Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir.

That’s about an eighth of the $1.8 billion estimated cost of the entire project.

The Flood Diversion Board of Authority will continue to focus on dikes rather than the diversion channel and dam at the core of the project because that’s a condition of the North Dakota Legislature’s funding, said Montplaisir, a member of the authority’s finance committee.

State lawmakers didn’t want the Diversion Authority to begin work on the dam or the diversion channel, most of which has been designed, until the federal government provides funding for both.

At the same time, the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority, which is fighting the diversion in federal court, has asked a judge to stop work on the Oxbow ring dike. The judge has not made a decision.

By the end of November, the Diversion Authority had spent $76 million over four years, mostly on engineering and design work. This doesn’t include federal funds used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has been allocated $39.5 million, according to Terry Williams, a project manager with the corps.

Spending so far

One of biggest beneficiaries of funding so far is Houston-Moore Group, a partnership of several firms that serve as the Diversion Authority’s engineering consultants. Together the group has received $16.1 million since fiscal year 2011. In its current contract, the group expected to receive another $7.4 million.

Gregg Thielman, a vice president with Houston Engineering in Fargo, said some of the bigger structures Houston-Moore has designed are six bridges over the diversion channel, including two Interstate 29 bridges. He said the group is working on a seventh bridge and has been authorized to design an eighth.

But Houston-Moore also provides several other kinds of services, he said, including working with landowners to get access for surveyors, calculating water-flow models and determining the best diversion options, such as the option to build the Oxbow ring dike.

Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke lies in the staging area behind a dam used for water storage during major floods to reduce the impact of the diversion channel on downstream communities.

Other big funding recipients include the Cass County Joint Water District and CH2M Hill Engineers. The water district received

$16.7 million to buy land for the ring dike and to calculate how much property owners benefit from the diversion, part of the ongoing special assessment process; it’s still owed $691,000 in the current funding agreement. CH2M Hill received $13.2 million as project administrators and is still owed $930,000.

More than 80 percent of the money the Diversion Authority has spent so far came from the city of Fargo and Cass County, which chipped in $31.8 million each. Most of the remainder came from other government entities, which have chipped in $10.7 million.

Future spending

Some construction on the levee around the Oxbow area, the floodwall and lift stations on Second Street in Fargo, and levees at the El Zagal Golf Course has already begun. That work continues this fiscal year and in fiscal year 2016.

About 25 percent of the fiscal year 2015 budget will be spent buying land and building the Oxbow ring dike, according to the Diversion Authority.

Another 40 percent will be spent buying land and building the Fargo dikes, also known as “in-town levees.” These would protect the city from a once-every-10-year flood, limiting the use of the diversion channel to bigger floods and reducing its impact on fish.

The rest of the money would go toward land for the diversion channel and staging area, construction of other project components and more design and engineering work.

More than half of the fiscal year 2015 budget will be paid by the city of Fargo and Cass County, with each contributing $59 million. About 40 percent will be paid by the state of North Dakota and the rest by other government entities.

Spending is expected to increase to $314.1 million in fiscal year 2016, according to the Diversion Authority. More than 60 percent of this amount would be used to buy land and build the diversion channel itself and several bridges across the channel, assuming federal funding comes through. Work on the Oxbow ring dike and Fargo in-town levees would also continue.

The Diversion Authority plans to seek $68.75 million from the state of North Dakota over the next four biennia and the remainder of the $846 million federal share.

For its share, the authority expects to use a combination of funding methods, according to Montplaisir. Some parts of the project may be financed with traditional government-issued bonds and some by public-private partnerships, in which private companies would finance and run parts of the project in return for later payment. Proponents believe the private sector can run projects more efficiently than government agencies.