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Dayton steamed over corps’ Youtube video

FARGO - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' new commander is in hot water with Minnesota's governor because of a Youtube video the general made about the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion.

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Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton listens to a reporter's question Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014. He was meeting with Forum News Service and St. Paul Pioneer Press reporters. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

FARGO – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ new commander is in hot water with Minnesota’s governor because of a Youtube video the general made about the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion.

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite made the video during an Aug. 22 tour of the project, in which he had corps officials explain the “amazing project,” the project’s purpose and construction timeline. It’s part of a series featuring the commander visiting corps projects around the country.

In a Sept. 1 letter to top federal officials, Gov. Mark Dayton called it a “five-minute infomercial” that showed the general was not on “a fact finding visit, but rather a promotional tour.”

Dayton faulted the general for failing to mention that the project still requires a permit from Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources and not requesting a visit with state officials.

“I am dismayed and deeply disappointed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proceeding without any evident regard for the unresolved issues Minnesota has identified,” he wrote.

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The letter was addressed not to Semonite but people above his paygrade: his boss Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, and Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget. Receiving carbon copies of the letter are Semonite, several corps generals, Diversion Authority officials and members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation.

One of them, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., met with Semonite in Fargo as the governor’s envoy.

Semonite was out of the country and was not available for comment though the corps did receive Dayton’s letter, according to corps spokesman Gene Pawlick on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

Most of the diversion project will be built in North Dakota with the exception of a dam straddling the Red River, which serves as the state’s border with Minnesota. The DNR is reviewing a permit to build that dam, which could take months to complete. The corps has not begun construction, even on the North Dakota side, though it is seeking bids for an outlet structure connected to the dam.

This isn’t the first time Dayton has complained to the federal government over the diversion project.

He told Donovan on July 15 that the corps signing an agreement to work on the project with the Diversion Authority was premature. Donovan’s office allocated $5 million for the project in fiscal year 2016 and allows the agreement to be signed if Darcy finds the corps is “likely” to overcome regulatory hurdles, including Minnesota’s.

“Respectfully, I must take issue with her decision,” he wrote. “Minnesota was not consulted prior to the Assistant Secretary’s determination.”

At issue, then as now, is Dayton’s perception that the federal government didn’t take his state’s authority seriously.

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On the Web: To see Semonite’s video, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwdOeqWxaug . To see Dayton’s letter, go to https://drive.google.com/a/forumcomm.com/file/d/0ByzUTEc4GcOWUWtpbGxrWUhmeG8/view .

Related Topics: FARGO-MOORHEAD DIVERSION
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