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ND Senate-approved amendment adds hurdle to F-M diversion

BISMARCK - Sen. Larry Luick said Tuesday that the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project is too big for North Dakota to commit to without federal help.

Diversion in trouble?
The Red River begins to swallow a stop sign west of the Moorhead Center Mall in 2010. Fargo may have to wait for federal funding before it can move ahead with the full Fargo-Moorhead diversion. Forum file photo

BISMARCK - Sen. Larry Luick said Tuesday that the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project is too big for North Dakota to commit to without federal help.

That's why the Republican from Fairmount, who represents District 25 south of Fargo, offered a floor amendment Tuesday that would require the Red River flood control project to receive federal funding before it can move forward - an amendment that effectively stops the diversion in its tracks.

"This isn't about farmers and small-town residents waving pitchforks and waving torches condemning Fargo's desire to develop into the floodplain south of town at their expense. They are not opposed to flood protection for Fargo," he said on the Senate floor. "... It's unreasonable to expect (upstream) homeowners to wonder if they will ever get their values back if a diversion project is constructed in piecemeal fashion at the whim of a federal government that can't pass a budget, let alone fund one."

The amendment was approved on a 24-23 vote after an hour of floor debate over the state's Water Commission budget, House Bill 1020. The bill then passed 44-3.

The bill allows for $450 million in state funding for the diversion project. But the state funding can only be used for levee and dike protection until the full federal share of the cost is appropriated by Congress.


The diversion, which has a total estimated cost of $1.8 billion, was not included in President Barack Obama's recently released budget outline.

Not dead yet?

The bill will go back to the House, which had previously passed its own version. The House version included an amendment, offered by Al Carlson, R-Fargo, that placed similar spending restrictions on the state's share of the diversion.

The House will have to agree to the Senate changes or send it to a conference committee to iron out the differences.

Some lawmakers expect to see the bill again today.

A legislator who voted on the prevailing side of a bill can motion to reconsider the Senate's original vote. The motion would require a majority vote within 24 hours and a two-thirds vote after that of the present senators before it can be reconsidered.

Then, the easiest way to remove the federal funding provision would be to offer an amendment that strips the bill of the language, according to Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo.

"To help our congressional delegation and president fund this project, they will want to see that North Dakota put its foot forward first," he said. "We need to demonstrate to the federal government and to ourselves we believe in this project, we will take the first step."


Upstream lobby

Luick proposed the amendment on behalf of the MnDak Upstream Coalition, which has lobbied against the diversion project, arguing that the upstream effects of the project on areas south of Fargo have not been studied sufficiently, and would have a much greater negative effect than what is estimated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"It's obvious Fargo has had the upper hand on it," Luick said. "Fargo is working with tax dollars and Upstream is working out of their pockets."

Fargo and Cass County have opted to assess sales taxes to put toward the diversion project.

Sen. George Sinner, D-Fargo, said he tried to speak to the undecided voters, arguing that his district - 46 - is in the very southeast corner of the city east of Interstate 29, and is always the hardest hit when the Red River floods.

He said the project is the best option for the flood-prone city, and needs to move forward despite the concerns by the communities south of Fargo that they could take on water after the diversion is built.

"The idea is a few farms will lose land. I don't know how else you do this, but people are going to be affected one way or another," he said after the vote. "Some areas will lose out, but be compensated fairly for it."

The bill was up for a full Senate vote Tuesday after a subcommittee led by Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, labored over the Water Commission budget. The committee had removed a similar amendment that would have required federal funding for the project.


Grindberg said he was disappointed Luick's amendment put the federal funding requirement back into the bill.

He told the Senate the Upstream Coalition's concern should be alleviated since the land south of Fargo would take on heavy floodwater only once every 10 years if a significant flood would occur.

"It's not going to hold water every year, only in events of major magnitude will that happen," he said.

Sen. Jim Dotzenrod, D-Wyndmere, supported Luick's amendment. He said without federal funding, the project changes dramatically and becomes only the state's concern.

"I don't see how we as state legislators can approve a project that is a federal project with no federal dollars and require the state to write out the checks," he said. "This is a very big commitment. We should have our eyes open here if this is to be a state project and we are going to pay for it, we should know it."

How senators voted on the diversion amendment Tuesday

Yes: John Andrist, R-Crosby; Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson; Bill Bowman, R-Bowman; Dwight Cook, R-Mandan; Dick Dever, R-Bismarck; Jim Dotzenrod, D-Wyndmere; Robert Erbele, R-Lehr; Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford; Ralph Kilzer, R-Bismarck; Jerry Klein, R-Fessenden; Oley Larsen, R-Minot; Gary Lee, R-Casselton; Larry Luick, R-Fairmount; Stan Lyson, R-Williston; Joe Miller, R-Park River; David O'Connell, D-Lansford; Nicole Poolman, R-Bismarck; Donald Schaible, R-Mott; Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck; Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks; Jessica Unruh, R-Beulah; Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown; Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson; John Warner, D-Ryder.

No: Howard Anderson, R-Turtle Lake; Tyler Axness, D-West Fargo; Spencer Berry, R-Fargo; Randall Burckhard, R-Minot; Tom Campbell, R-Grafton; Ron Carlisle, R-Bismarck; Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo; John Grabinger, D-Jamestown; Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo; David Hogue, R-Minot; Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks; Karen Krebsbach, R-Minot; Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks; Judy Lee, R-West Fargo; Richard Marcellais, D-Belcourt; Tim Mathern, D-Fargo; Phil Murphy, D-Portland; Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo; Dave Oehlke, R-Devils Lake; Larry Robinson, D-Valley City; Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks; George Sinner, D-Fargo; Ronald Sorvaag, R-Fargo.

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