Fargo is calling out the big guns to get legislators to give them a blank check for their diversion project. The recent announcement that the Army Corps will commit more cash to the hemorrhaging plan is a clear attempt to influence North Dakota House Appropriation committee members to sweeten the pot.
Earlier in the session, the Senate trimmed back Gov. Burgum’s request to take $300 million away from other projects around the state and add it to what has already been designated for Fargo. Senators said they could add $133 million in the future. Last year’s announcement that the cost of the project has grown from the original $1.8 billion original estimate to $2.75 billion in just seven years has everybody worried.
The Forum recently published the headline “Not time to panic,” but the intent was clear that financial panic is in the air. It’s no secret that the Diversion Authority is understating the true cost of the project. They use a "2018 dollar cost" in their latest forecast. The current fully-funded cost estimate is actually $3.13 billion. But few believe that will be the final number if the project is completed. History tells us the original estimate will more than double, and in the real world, that’s where the problem lies. There are simply not enough funding sources to pay the bill, unless state of North Dakota has another billion lying around to put in the pot. The locals are tapped out. They would have to collect on a $750 million property assessment district to get more cash. They have promised never to do that.
The Diversion Authority says Minnesota has to come up with $86 million. Why would Minnesota do that? The Diversion Authority says the Army Corps will come up with another $300 million, but they still haven’t gotten an appropriation from the federal budget and are relying on money coming internally from the Army Corps.
Fargo leaders need a signal that says the diversion plan needs to be downsized. Neither Fargo nor the state can afford a project big enough to promote subsidized development in the floodplain. There are known options that could provide flood protection for Fargo, and reduce impacts to residents upstream at a much lower cost. They won’t be pursued unless someone says no to the heavy-handed diversion promoters.
Fargo developers say their residents should use car loads, buses, and plane loads to convince state decision makers to give them the money. Upstream residents have a much different motivation. Letters from the Diversion Authority went out this week informing property owners that they will be acquiring their homes and farmland. The people riding in those cars, buses, and airplanes probably can’t identify with the "kicked the in gut" feeling residents got when they opened those letters. We’re betting that legislators on the Appropriation Committees can.
Fargo says they cannot live without another billion. It’s not true. It’s time for a reality check for everyone.