Letter: The work is just beginning for the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion

Permanent flood protection is now in sight, with 2027 firmly on the schedule. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a project as large as this one.

Shelly Carlson is the new mayor of Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum
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Securing $435 million in additional financial support from the State of North Dakota has been a significant factor in being able to pay for the construction of the F-M Area Diversion using the existing sales taxes passed by local voters.

It also signals that the massive effort to finish construction of the F-M Area Diversion will be significantly ramping up, an effort that will require us as the Metro Flood Diversion Authority (MFDA) to change our approach from advocating for permanent, reliable flood protection, to managing the intricate and detailed process of making it a reality.

This is a project that will have a major impact on the region for future generations.

It is therefore worth noting the significance of the 2021 Legislature’s historic support. It was a signal achievement, made possible through a broad coalition including leaders like Rep. Jim Schmidt, Sen. Ron Sorvaag, legislative leaders of both parties, the rest of the Fargo and Cass County legislative delegation, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis, Cass County Commission Chair Chad Peterson, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

A compelling case and strategy

It was also based on a compelling economic case.


Our case is not simply that the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area is worth saving. It absolutely is, but our case is based strongly on the unique strategy we have chosen for building the F-M Area Diversion.

This strategy involves locking in the construction costs and 30 years of operating costs for the Diversion Channel before we start full construction.

It is possible to do this.

Doing so involves creating a “public-private partnership,” where a team of companies proposes a winning contract and takes on the responsibility of financing and day-to-day management of their portion of the overall project. This public-private partnership is also referred to as “P3.”

The selected P3 contractor will be completing the construction of the full 30 miles of the Diversion Channel, as well as 19 bridges and two aqueduct structures. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who began construction on its share of the project back in 2017, is responsible for the Southern Embankment, the I-29 grade raise, and the control structures. Full flood protection is scheduled to be available by 2027, with final construction complete in 2028.

The Diversion Authority selected the P3 model after intensive study and research to find the best way to design, finance and accelerate the construction of a major flood management system for our region.

P3 approaches are increasingly popular for large infrastructure projects because they leverage the strengths found in both the public and private sectors. P3 projects offer faster construction schedules and more financial flexibility than is normally found with infrastructure work where the phases of the project (design, construction, operations and maintenance) are sequentially managed and often performed by separate parties. And, probably most importantly, P3 projects are intended to provide taxpayers with the best value for the money spent.

Selecting the right vendor

The MFDA will soon be finishing its evaluations to select the P3 vendor for the F-M Area Diversion.


As it is a substantial project, the evaluations require a fair, impartial and proposer-blind review process where the technical proposal is rated first, followed by the financial proposal. Once completed, the MFDA Board of Authority will cast its up-or-down vote on the proposer which has received the review work group’s recommendation and we will know the name of the company, or companies, who will receive this awesome responsibility.

The impartiality of this process, which is designed to get a proposal that combines technical excellence, adherence to schedule, and financial economy, is absolutely necessary. It allows us to get assurances on timing and costs required to keep the project in line with the funding assembled from our state, local, and federal sources.

For MFDA, a shift in gears and a change in focus

The choice of a P3 approach also means once the decision is made, the board and the community will need to rapidly shift gears, from making the case to get permanent, reliable flood protection funded, to managing the critical activities and relationships involved in getting it completed.

This will mean welcoming a company which will instantly become a major employer and player in our local economy, working alongside us and the local partners who make up part of their construction proposals.

Working together

When the P3 Developer is selected, it will mean for the MFDA a fundamental change of focus: a team of leaders with absolute accountability for the success and the safety of the construction of the FM Area Diversion, versus a focus on obtaining funding.

A key responsibility will be to work with our developer to support the recruitment and hiring process through which our friends and neighbors in the F-M area — and perhaps in other regions of North Dakota and Minnesota — will be hired for construction positions and other roles supporting the effort.

Indeed, at many levels, the hard work is just beginning for the MFDA.

In the coming weeks, we will partner with our Developer to make sure of the following:


  • The community is continuously kept informed about developments in the project that may impact local residents – whether that involves changes in traffic patterns, increased demand for building materials, or where and how to apply for open positions;
  • Clear lines of visibility and accountability are implemented between the MFDA and our P3 Developer; and
  • Assuring effective safety practices are followed throughout construction.

The delivery of the necessary funds for the F-M Area Diversion from our federal, state and community partners is a major victory and cause for celebration. We will be bringing permanent, reliable flood protection to the Fargo-Moorhead Metro Area.
This is also a victory that calls us to rise to the next level of performance as a board and a team as we seize the challenge of construction that lies ahead.

We are confident in outcome of the P3 procurement process we have created, and we are extremely pleased to award this history-making bid.

Permanent flood protection is now in sight, with 2027 firmly on the schedule. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a project as large as this one. There remains much hard work to do, but there is no doubt we will succeed as we move forward.

Moorhead Mayor Shelly Carlson is the Chair of the Metro Flood Diversion Authority Board. Joel Paulsen is the Executive Director of MFDA.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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