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Commission releases $100M for F-M diversion

BISMARCK -- The largest single appropriation of state funding for the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project was released Monday with a unanimous vote of the State Water Commission.

BISMARCK - The largest single appropriation of state funding for the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project was released Monday with a unanimous vote of the State Water Commission.

 

State lawmakers included $100 million in the water commission’s 2013-2015 budget to support the $1.8 billion diversion project, after having previously appropriated $45 million during the 2009 session and $30 million in 2011.

 

Commission members on Monday approved the additional cost-share dollars that will help fund nearly $211 million in diversion program costs budgeted for fiscal year 2015, which begins Oct. 1, Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral said.

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About $93 million of the 2015 expenses will be eligible for state dollars, he said.

 

Until Congress appropriates money for the diversion’s construction and a project partnership agreement is in place, the state funds can be used only to build levees within the city of Fargo and a ring dike to protect the communities of Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke subdivision south of Fargo from Red River flooding.

 

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton recently raised objections to construction starting on the ring dike before the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources could finish its environmental review of the diversion.

 

Zavoral said the Diversion Authority has offered to limit construction of the ring dike to a 100-year flood level instead of a 500-year flood level. The dike could be built to the higher level once the DNR’s impact study level is completed, he said.

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Zavoral said the authority hopes to reach agreement with Dayton on that and other issues within the next 90 days.

 

State Water Commission member Harley Swenson of Bismarck said what’s probably driving Minnesota’s political opposition is that a substantial amount of growth in the Fargo-Moorhead area is occurring in Fargo and West Fargo, "and Moorhead is getting very little."

 

"And so they look at this project as enhancing the trend that is occurring, but I think what they don’t realize is that they’ve made their bed and now they’re having to accept those responsibilities. Higher taxes, higher everything discourages growth," he said.

 

Zavoral noted diversion critics also argue that having the 36-mile-long diversion extend so far south of Fargo only serves to protect Fargo’s growth area, but he said that’s the most efficient route for the channel.

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A joint powers authority of North Dakota’s Richland County and Minnesota’s Wilkin County - both upstream of the diversion - has sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to try to stop the project. The Minnesota DNR joined the lawsuit in July as a friend of the court.

 

If Congress appropriates funding, construction on the diversion could begin in fiscal year 2016, Zavoral said. That year’s budget is preliminarily estimated at $314 million.

 

State lawmakers last year agreed to commit no more than $450 million as one-half of the project’s local cost-share. Their intent was to provide the remaining $275 million over the next four biennia.

 

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