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Diversion officials say plans for cemeteries still a year away: Project backers, residents differ on how many sites affected

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FARGO — Diversion officials say they hope to have plans for how to save cemeteries south of Fargo-Moorhead from backed-up Red River floodwaters within a year.

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The prospect of sitting water — from a few inches to more than 10 feet — atop graves has become another rallying point for opponents of the proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion and its so-called staging area, where floodwaters would back up during severe floods.

After initial surveys, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identified six cemeteries in the staging area that would be affected.

More than a dozen upstream cemeteries banded together to form the Upstream Cemetery Authority last year. They say contact with the Diversion Authority has been minimal, and there have been few answers about how their loved ones’ graves will be protected from manmade flooding.

At a Diversion Authority Board meeting Thursday, Corps Project Manager Terry Williams stressed that they’re still in the information-gathering stage. The corps recently finished a study — which the Diversion Authority will post for the public later this month — during which they identified a seventh cemetery in the staging area.

Those seven cemeteries are: Clara, Comstock, Hoff and Roen Family cemeteries in Clay County; North Pleasant and the Lower Wild Rice and Red River cemeteries in Cass County; and Hemnes Cemetery in Richland County.

“We do recognize that additional sites could be identified,” Williams said at the meeting.

Members of the Upstream Cemetery Authority believe at least nine other cemeteries will be impacted by the staging area.

Williams said the corps has developed a list of possible plans to protect each cemetery from flood waters, ranging from a ring dike to the last resort, relocation. She said moving an entire cemetery would be “very unlikely.”

Williams said they hope to meet with representatives from each affected cemetery to decide on mitigation plans within the next year.

Diversion officials gave themselves a round of applause Thursday, celebrating the long-awaited authorization of the proposed $1.8 billion project to protect Fargo-Moorhead from flooding.

President Barack Obama on Monday signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, a package of water infrastructure projects including the diversion. Authorization does not guarantee any federal dollars for the project but merely a spot in line to seek federal funding. The project is asking the federal government to cover more than $800 million of construction costs.

Questions of funding notwithstanding, several Diversion Authority members and corps representatives called it a massive milestone for a project that has been in the works for more than five years.

“We have come so far,” said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, who flew to Washington, D.C., to watch the president sign the bill. “This is an extremely big deal.”

Walaker noted he let down City Commissioner and Diversion Authority member Tim Mahoney, who asked for a ceremonial pen.

“(California Sen.) Barbara Boxer didn’t even get a pen, and she was on stage,” the mayor said. “I’m sorry, Tim.”

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Kyle Potter
Kyle Potter is an enterprise reporter at the Forum. He came to Fargo-Moorhead in May 2013 after stints at the Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minnesota Daily. 
(701) 241-5502
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