MOORHEAD — A Minnesota watershed board is proposing permit conditions for the Fargo-Moorhead diversion requiring the flood-control project to provide 100-year flood protection for the communities of Georgetown and Wolverton.
The permit also would specify that restrictions on properties in the upstream impact area would be no more stringent than elsewhere in Minnesota — a condition that seeks to remove a federal regulation involving building structures within the 500-year floodplain.
A permit from the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District, based in Barnesville, is required to enable construction of the $2.75 billion diversion, which would divert Red River floodwater around the Fargo-Moorhead area.
The project has already obtained a permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which hinges on meeting 54 conditions. That permit, however, is being challenged by the watershed district as well as the Minnesota towns of Wolverton and Comstock.
Mary Scherling, chairwoman of the Metro Diversion Authority board, said the conditions are not a surprise and engineers believe they should not pose an obstacle.
“None of the items on the list were not doable,” she said on Tuesday, April 2. “There are no red flags that any of the engineers are seeing.”
In another development, a federal judge said he expects to decide “shortly” whether to grant a request by the Diversion Authority to allow construction on the diversion channel’s inlet to resume this spring in North Dakota.
Diversion officials hope to resume construction this spring on work estimated to cost $46 million, noting that every year of delay on the project — construction halted in 2017 — costs at least $70 million.
Chief District Judge Jon Tunheim asked a lot of questions regarding construction details in Monday’s hearing, suggesting he was seriously considering the request, said Scherling, who attended the hearing.
“He said he’d act shortly, whatever that means,” she said. The Army Corps of Engineers has already awarded bids for the work, and if construction can’t resume this spring, bids would have to be resubmitted, increasing costs further, she said.
The watershed district’s draft permit conditions will be discussed at a public information forum hosted by the watershed district at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at the Dilworth Community Center.
Jay Leitch, president of the watershed district’s board, said stronger flood protection should be provided for Georgetown, a town of 127 about 15 miles north of Moorhead, because the diversion channel would discharge into the Red River near the farming community.
A ring dike built after the 2009 flood encircles Georgetown, but the barrier has seven openings, including two to accommodate U.S. Highway 75, several for streets and one for a railroad line that appears “essentially abandoned,” he said.
“I guess we’re asking for a little protection for Georgetown since that’s where the diversion will be emptying into the river,” he said.
Wolverton, a town of 134 located 22 miles south of Moorhead, is upstream from a dam that would temporarily hold back water, allowing a controlled release of floodwater through the diversion channel to minimize downstream impacts.
Property owners in the upstream area have complained that restrictions on their land would be overly burdensome, potentially preventing them from building new outbuildings at a farmstead, Leitch said.
Those restrictions aren’t imposed anywhere else in Minnesota, he said, and should be eliminated for the sake of fairness. “We would just like it to be equal to anywhere else in the state and equal to the city of Moorhead,” Leitch said.
Officials are trying to determine which federal agency imposes the regulation, and will seek greater flexibility for landowners, Scherling said, who reiterated that the diversion should be able to meet the permit conditions.
“We’re anxious to get going on this,” she said. “Time is money.”