FARGO — Joel Paulsen, a Moorhead City Council member and former Diversion Authority board member, has been hired as the first executive director to help steer the $2.75 billion flood project as design work continues and construction is expected to resume soon.
Paulsen emerged as the board's top choice among three finalists in late July. The Diversion Authority board approved Paulsen's contract, which includes an annual salary of $195,000. That unanimous action, on Thursday, Aug. 22, meant Paulsen has been hired.
His first day will be Tuesday, Sept. 3.
"We'll keep you real busy," Mary Scherling, a Cass County commissioner and the board's chairwoman, said after the board approved Paulsen's contract.
"I'm very excited to get started," Paulsen said in an interview. He will continue to serve on the Moorhead City Council until Aug. 31.
As executive director he will answer to the board and oversee all administrative functions, including personnel, budgets and purchasing, communications and planning.
Because a judge is allowing some construction activities to go ahead despite legal and administrative challenges, the $2.75 billion project needs someone to oversee the day-to-day affairs of the massive public works initiative, Scherling said.
"Now is the time for a full-time employee to focus on managing the many aspects of this complex process and guiding the project through to completion," she said.
Kevin Campbell, a Clay County commissioner and the board's vice chairman, agreed and said Paulsen has the "right mix of experience, engineering knowledge and empathy for those impacted by the project."
Other items on the Diversion Authority's agenda give a preview of some of the issues that will cross Paulsen's desk in the weeks and months ahead.
Board members unanimously approved a project authorizing up to $43.7 million to Jacobs Engineering to oversee what is called the public-private partnership to design and build the diversion channel for the project.
Before approving the contract, members asked if the work could be done by local firms. John Shockley, a lawyer for the project, said it was important to have a large firm with experience in administering massive, sophisticated projects like the diversion. Local firms will have opportunities to work on other elements of the project, he said.
The contract, which runs up to six years, includes multiple facets of working with a consortium of large companies that will design and oversee construction of the 36-mile channel, which will have multiple bridge crossings as well as an estimated 500 to 1,000 utility crossings.
During extreme floods, the channel will carry half of the flows of the Red River. The flows will be controlled by an inlet that will temporarily store water upstream from the project — a feature that has sparked intense opposition to the project by affected landowners in North Dakota's Richland County and Minnesota's Wilkin County.