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F-M flood protection no longer top issue among civic, business leaders

After giving individual updates on their respective cities, area mayors Tim Mahoney, Fargo, Del Rae Williams, Moorhead, Chad Olson, Dilworth, and Rich Mattern, West Fargo, answer questions from the audience during the State of the Cities address Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, at the Ramada Plaza Fargo Hotel & Conference Center. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO – Concerns over flood protection is lessening compared to concerns over the challenges of growth if the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce's annual state-of-the-cities address Thursday is anything to go by.

Focused on their booming populations and businesses, some mayors who spoke at the event made passing mention of flood protection, and the Moorhead mayor said afterward that her city might have to pull out of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project if her state opposes it.

Echoing the mood, 40 percent of audience members responding to a cellphone poll taken at the event said workforce issues should be the No. 1 priority for the community. That’s ahead of the 36 percent who said flood protection should be No. 1.

Other options included entertainment options, lower taxes and housing.

When a poll was taken at the state-of-the-cities address a year ago, 58 percent said flood protection should be No. 1 compared to 18 percent who said workforce issues.


One of the event moderators, Xcel Energy’s Mark Nisbet, suggested that this could be because the diversion project is moving along smoothly.

The $1.8 billion diversion project, overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would reroute high water from the Red River around the Fargo-Moorhead area. Upstream communities are suing to stop the project and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has joined them, complaining that the federal project has begun without state approval.

In between talking about Fargo’s new City Hall and the need for a water pipeline from the Missouri River, acting Mayor Tim Mahoney gave an upbeat assessment of the project. “We are on track, and we are headed for finishing the diversion,” he said, adding that the federal government needs to step up with funding.

Moorhead’s Del Rae Williams spoke of progress on her city’s dikes, the last piece of which will be done this year, referring briefly to the diversion as a Fargo project.

Moorhead is a partner in the Diversion Board of Authority, along with Fargo, Cass County, Clay County and West Fargo.

Asked about her thoughts on the diversion after the Chamber event, Williams said it’s really out of her control.

“If Minnesota DNR says ‘no,’ we have to pull out,” she said. “The decision has been sort of taken for us. We’ll go through with it if they recommend it. If they don’t recommend it, legally, we have to pull out.”

The DNR recently released a report that said the only other alternative to the diversion, water storage around the region, would not be enough to protect Fargo-Moorhead, raising hopes among diversion supporters the department would OK the project.


Williams said, practically speaking, Moorhead is on higher ground than Fargo and doesn’t need the diversion as much.

When it was West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern’s turn to speak, he showed a video in which he boasted of new businesses, new homes and a growing population. The Sheyenne River diversion built in the 1990s made that possible, he said, so he supports the Fargo-Moorhead diversion, but it should be a mile west of where corps plans have it now just on the city’s western edge.

Interviewed after the Chamber event, he said he doesn’t think his city will convince the corps, though he feels that a western alignment would be cheaper because it wouldn’t have to wind around as much. It would also allow emergency vehicles better access to West Fargo’s west side because they wouldn’t be limited by the number of crossings across the diversion, he said.

Dilworth Mayor Chad Olson also spoke Thursday, focusing mostly on his city’s share of the area’s growth and noting the interconnectedness of the area economy. “When Fargo grows, so too does Dilworth. When West Fargo grows, so too does Moorhead.”


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