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Lawmakers still wrestling with diversion funding

BISMARCK -- The North Dakota Legislature continues to battle over whether state money can be spent on a Fargo flood control diversion before getting federal funding for the project.

House lawmakers approved a measure Wednesday morning that only requires federal authorization, not federal funding, for the state to spend $450 million toward the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project

The vote on Senate Bill 2233 comes a day after the Senate passed the state Water Commission budget Tuesday. The budget was amended to allow the $450 million to be spent only on dike and levee work until both federal authorization and federal funding comes in for the $1.8 billion Red River flood control project.

The House version of the bill that passed Wednesday will be sent back to the Senate, who will have to agree to the House changes or disagree and try and hash them out. The bill includes similar language to the Water Commission budget, but specifically says, "State funding for the Fargo-Moorhead flood control project may be appropriated at the time and in the manner determined by the legislative assembly, either concurrently or separately from federal and local funding for the Fargo-Moorhead flood control project."

The Water Commission budget is a separate bill, House Bill 1020, that allows the state to spend $450 million on the diversion, but prevents the money from being spent until federal funding is in place.

SB2233 was drafted to create new policies, goals and objectives for water projects such as the Souris River flood control project, the lower Heart River Morton County flood control project, the southwest pipeline project, the Garrison diversion unit and the Fargo flood control project.

"The language in the bill was meant to mirror language in (Water Commission budget)," said Rep. Curt Hofstad, R-Devils Lake. "One thing we have to be careful of as we appropriate money, is we never get out in front of a federal project until it is authorized and if we really spend money in front of that project, we end up holding the bag."

Some lawmakers are expecting to revote on the state Water Commission budget during this afternoon's floor session to try and strip the language that requires federal funding before moving forward with the diversion project. The bill, passed by the Senate on Tuesday, can be called back up for reconsideration today with a majority vote.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.