FARGO - Congress has taken a "big step" in authorizing the Fargo-Moorhead diversion project, Sen. John Hoeven said Monday.

Last week, the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee passed the 2013 Water Resources Development Act, which includes support for the proposed $1.8 billion flood channel around the F-M metro, Hoeven said in a flood informational meeting at City Hall here.

Hoeven hopes the bill, approved Wednesday, will reach the Senate floor by April or May.

"I've made this an absolute priority with our leadership," Hoeven said. "I believe we can pass it, and then it'll go over to the House."

City and county officials took the news Monday with a grain of salt, with some saying they are uncertain about what the House will do with the bill.

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"In recent years, the House members have been very nervous about not being associated with any new earmark projects," said Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt. "The House has really been at somewhat of a standstill the last few years regarding projects."

Mayor Dennis Walaker said congressional authorization this year would be a "great step forward" for the project, but he is also uncertain about what the House will do with the bill.

Some city and county leaders are also concerned about a bill in the state Legislature that could halt the project.

The state House passed House Bill 1020, the State Water Commission budget that includes funding for water projects statewide over the next two years, but it was amended by House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, so that state dollars can't be used for a diversion project here.

The restrictions apply to $100 million proposed for Fargo flood control projects over the next two years, as well as $45 million approved in 2009 and $30 million approved in 2011. Carlson said he wants to see federal authorization and funding before the state pours any money into the project.

The state Senate can still alter and pass a different bill than the House, which would lead the two legislative bodies to a conference committee to hash out the difference.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Monday he is not concerned about Fargo having funding flexibility over the next biennium.

"I think the Senate is going to alter the language in the bill to make it clear that Fargo funds can be used for whatever purpose they want to use them for," he said. "There seems to be good agreement on that."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518