HICKSON, N.D. - Upstream residents here are working to swell support in opposition to the Red River Diversion by outlining why they believe there are better plans for flood protection.

Leaders from the area, which would be a storage area during floods under the existing diversion plan, held a news conference Thursday to call into question what they feel are flaws in the project.

They say too many answers remain unknown, and creating multiple water storage areas farther upstream in conjunction with an F-M diversion channel is a better solution.

"We encourage leaders to study this option," said Nathan Berseth, a spokesman for the MnDak Upstream Coalition. "We'll do everything in our power to prevent a dam and a reservoir from being built."

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have said many answers remain to be seen because the project is still in its design phase.

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Dan Zink, an Oxbow city councilman, said the plans have left his city in limbo, and "having no answers" is no longer acceptable.

Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt said he encourages retention but retention alone is not sufficient as an alternative.

"It would only benefit the plan, but it would not be a replacement of the plan," Berndt said.

Berndt said studies show the amount of land needed for water retention would equate to 6 inches of water spread across an area the size of Richland County. He encouraged the upstream group to identify any land for possible storage.

Upstream leaders said Thursday there are plenty of willing landowners to supply retention areas.

"If you look at upstream retention, you'll find willing landowners," Berseth said.

So far, the corps estimates the cost of a 36-mile diversion project to cost about $2 billion. Of that, $1.1 billion will need to be paid for locally.

Thursday, Craig Hersgaard said the current Fargo city and Cass County sales taxes designed to help shoulder that cost will come up nearly $700 million short in 20 years. This means, Hersgaard said, special assessments will likely be charged to residents of the two cities.

"There's only one other place to get it, and that's property taxes, and at this point, nobody is talking about property taxes," said Hersgaard, a Kindred resident with the group Stop the Fargo Dam.

Berndt said the claim of a potential shortfall in local funds is false.

He said not only is it rare for a project of this size to have funding sources identified in the design phases, but the estimates have been studied exhaustively by federal experts and economists. Also, the Cass County sales tax is already generating 30 to 40 percent more than projected.

Dennis Biewer, a Bakke Subdivision resident, said the upstream groups hope to get the information out, including a four-page flier that will be inserted into The Forum next week.

"This project will destroy schools, communities and friendships," Biewer said. "Why do we oppose the diversion? Put yourself in our shoes."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530