Aaland: Task force outcome validated my concerns
Prior to the first meeting of the flood diversion task force proposed by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, I wrote a letter to the editor laying out the role North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum played in the expansion of the F-M Diversion that ultimately lea...
Prior to the first meeting of the flood diversion task force proposed by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, I wrote a letter to the editor laying out the role North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum played in the expansion of the F-M Diversion that ultimately lead to Minnesota's permit denial and a federal court injunction. My letter was not a personal attack, but merely a recitation of the facts that supported my concern that Burgum might not be able to successfully serve as a fair moderator to negotiate an equitable solution. Now, after the last task force meeting, I believe the facts validated my concern.
The task force was the result of a gracious concession by Dayton to give the F-M Diversion Authority an opportunity to come up with a plan that could meet Minnesota statutory requirements. From the first meeting, Minnesota DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr made it clear that the current diversion plan would not and could not be permitted. Over the coming weeks, he would repeat this warning again, and again, and again.
Despite this clear guidance, the leaders of the F-M Diversion and the Army Corps, facilitated by Burgum, chose not to present legitimate alternatives to significantly reduce floodplain destruction; a minimal requirement announced by Landwehr. Instead, they filled precious hours with a seemingly endless repeat of the engineering and rationalizations already rejected as invalid and unlawful.
The job of selecting and presenting all the data considered by the task force was delegated to engineers employed by Houston Moore, a company which not only designed the current project, but has collected approximately $43 million dollars from the F-M Diversion Authority for the privilege.
Despite requests from upstream representatives and the recommendation of the region's most celebrated hydrologist, very little data was provided on alternatives that significantly minimized floodplain development. The current unlawful diversion plan was declared to be "baseline" and the only options presented at the final hearing amounted to minimal variations of the rejected project.
Proof of the Houston Moore engineers' bias was evident when it became known their final recommendations were distributed to pro-diversion task force members and Fargo officials in advance of the last meeting, but withheld from upstream representatives from both sides of the river.
The options were so unsatisfactory that DNR officials present indicated that they would not individually pass muster. Suggestions by task force members to combine the plans, doubling the amount of floodplain preserved, were met with irritation and open aggression by Burgum, who lashed out at Richland Commissioner Nathan Berseth when he pointed out that the whole purpose of the task force was to find a permittable alternative, not to rehash Fargo's unlawful project.
This task force, dominated as it was by Burgum, ended as squandered opportunity. No surprise when you consider that, but for the federal court injunction, these folks would still be claiming they need not respect the laws of Minnesota or the rights of Richland and Wilkin Counties. Fargo's dam construction would still be full steam ahead - just as it was right up until litigation stopped it.
Aaland is a Fargo attorney who lives in Christine, N.D.