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Burgum headed for fundraiser with diversion foe, says he still supports diversion

FARGO -- News that Doug Burgum, a Republican running for governor, is holding a fundraiser hosted by Perry Miller, a Democrat, has raised a few eyebrows among political observers, but there's something else unusual about the event.

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Doug Burgum

FARGO --  News that Doug Burgum, a Republican running for governor, is holding a fundraiser hosted by Perry Miller, a Democrat, has raised a few eyebrows among political observers, but there's something else unusual about the event.

Burgum has long been one of the most prominent members of the Fargo business community, which has generally championed the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion. Miller, a former Richland County commissioner, chaired the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority, which sued to stop the diversion.

"I fully support the diversion," Burgum said, because with the terrain here there's no way to build dikes high enough. "The diversion is an essential part of any kind of long-term flood protection and always has been. Lots of people have studied this for years."

"People holding fundraisers aren't influencing my campaign positions, certainly not something as important as the diversion," he said.

But as passionate as he is about the diversion, he said, he's also passionate about flood protection across the state. "I'm not running for mayor, I'm running for governor."

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Among other gubernatorial candidates The Forum spoke with, some took supportive stances on the $2.1 billion project aimed at protecting Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. The state share of the project is $450 million.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, the Republican Party's endorsed gubernatorial candidate, said in a statement that the Fargo area is a major economic engine for the state that must be protected. "The state has already committed hundreds of millions of dollars to the project, and funding necessary for permanent flood protection favored by the entire region will be a priority for my administration."

State Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, who's also running for governor, said flood control is necessary despite its high cost. He said he would support state funding and even increase funding if necessary as long as the diversion meets all state permitting requirements.

Lawmakers are, however, nervous about how many communities around the state need flood control and how oil revenue has declined, he said.

Other candidates were less supportive.

Paul Sorum, a Bismarck Republican who's also running for governor, said he doesn't believe the diversion will work as advertised and is too costly. He said he instead favors retaining water upstream, an idea earlier considered and dismissed as impractical by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Sorum, who cited his experience as a design professional -- he is an architect -- said he wouldn't necessarily veto funding that's already been pledged by the state, but would seek a "workable solution."

Marty Riske, a Fargo businessman running for governor on the Libertarian ticket, said in an email: "I would not be in favor of forcing people to lose their properties for water diversion."

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While Miller is a Democrat and an outspoken opponent of the diversion, that's not the context of the fundraiser according to Burgum. He said Miller is one of many business leaders around the state holding fundraisers for him and that only shows he has broad support outside of the Republican Party establishment.

Jay Schuler, president of Wahpeton-based Giant Snacks, is co-hosting the fundraiser with Miller Tuesday, May 10, at Miller's home in Wahpeton.

Related Topics: DOUG BURGUM
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