FARGO - Minnesota regulators seemed not to have as hard a position on the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion as previously believed, according to Diversion Authority officials who met with them Thursday, Dec. 1.
"(Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr) validated permanent flood protection is very important," Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams told the authority board later in the day. "We talked about the concept of what Plan B may or may not be. It's a lot more flexible than you would think."
Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney and Diversion Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo also attended the meeting.
The DNR had earlier denied a permit for the Diversion Authority to build a dam to reduce the flow of water into the diversion channel to a manageable level. It and a dike to protect Comstock, which is on the wet side of the dam, would be the only part of the project in Minnesota.
Though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has indicated that, as a federal entity, it could build the project even without a permit, the Diversion Authority has indicated it still wants to work with the DNR.
WIlliams said the authority and DNR officials agreed to form a technical working group made up of technical staff from both sides and, later, a policy working group.
Asked about the flexibility she mentioned, Williams said DNR staff indicated there are certain parts of the diversion project that they believe violate state law, forcing them to deny permission for the project. But if there's a way to avoid violations, they would be open to it, she said.
The Diversion Authority also approved a $241 million budget for 2017 on Thursday.
The single biggest expenditure will be the $107 million for land needed to build the dam and diversion channel. The next biggest will be $46 million on dikes in Fargo to allow more water to flow through town instead of being stored behind the dam.
Besides those there is also funding set aside for work on the ring dike protecting the Oxbow area, according to Robert Cowen, a consultant with CH2M Hill who developed the budget. The ring dike is still under a federal judge's injunction and it's not clear when or if he will lift it, but Cowen said funding will be ready if he does.
This year's budget is $237 million but $46 million wasn't spent and will be available next year. So far, of the $2.2 billion estimated cost of the diversion project, $324 million has been spent.
The Diversion Authority's attorneys filed motions Thursday to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority, upstream opponents of the project,
The lawsuit was against both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Diversion Authority but U.S. District Judge John R. Tunheim had tossed out all claims against the corps and three of five claims against the authority.
The injunction placed on work on the Oxbow-area ring dike is part of the lawsuit.
The day before, the RWJPA had filed motions seeking a permanent injunction against the diversion project for fear the corps will proceed with work despite objections by the state of Minnesota.