DILWORTH, Minn. — Emotional appeals and figures thrown out at a special meeting of the Buffalo-Red River Watershed in the Dilworth Community Hall on Tuesday night, April 23, again highlighted the strong views and rural-urban divide on the proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion project.
The watershed board not only has to decide if it will continue an appeal of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources permit, but also must determine if its own permit should be granted for the project.
The crowd of mostly upstream opponents to the project listened to presentations by both sides and then offered their own comments.
Moorhead city officials and F-M diversion employees talked mostly about the benefits of the estimated $2.75 billion project, while opponents questioned if the "excessive project" could really be completed for that amount of money and urged the watershed board to look at alternatives such as a series of storage facilities that could hold back as much as 20% of the flows into the Red River.
Moorhead Mayor Johnathan Judd said he respected the hard decisions the watershed board was facing, but after losing many nights of sleep researching and thinking about the project he said it boiled down to "doing the right thing."
He said he understood the passions on both sides of the issue and had friends who lived south of Moorhead, including a few who would lose farms that had been in their families for generations.
However, Judd said he didn't want to be "on the wrong side of history" on the challenges that flooding along the Red River presents.
Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said the options for Moorhead if the diversion isn't built are to do what they can with the levee system and let the chips fall where they may, or undergo almost a complete rebuilding of the levee system in the city. That, he said, would include buying out another 673 properties and raising parts of the Interstate 94 and Veterans Memorial bridges downtown to protect the city to the same level as the diversion would.
He said cost estimates for raising the levees and other work are as much as $800 million.
However, opponents offered another take on the issue.
Engineer Charlie Anderson said the diversion would eliminate much of the current flood storage area and that a better option is to build 40 storage sites along the Red River and another 26 along the Sheyenne River that would cut the flow into the Red River by 20%.
Farmer Mark Askegaard, who has land in many townships along the Minnesota side of the Red River, was representing the Upstream Coalition against the diversion and said it would be a "miracle" if the construction of the project came in under $4 billion.
He said two other diversion projects in Roseau and Breckenridge in Minnesota ended up at double the original estimated cost.
He said alternatives to the diversion could only be explored if the watershed board denied the permit.
Residents were welcome to give comments to the board and written comments can be mailed or emailed to the watershed board until Friday, May 10, at 5 p.m.