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F-M Diversion officials offer to scale back dike project

FARGO -- The chairman of the Flood Diversion Authority has written Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to offer what he called his "commitments" to address Minnesota's concerns about the project.

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FARGO - The chairman of the Flood Diversion Authority has written Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to offer what he called his “commitments” to address Minnesota’s concerns about the project.
Those commitments, which have not been officially approved by the diversion board, include a proposal to limit future construction on a controversial ring dike in North Dakota that would protect several communities against a 100-year flood, instead of a 500-year flood.
Dayton said in a meeting last week in Breckenridge, Minn., that the Diversion Authority should not “kick sand in the face of Minnesota,” but later told an audience in Moorhead, “We have to work this out.”
The start of construction this summer of the ring dike at the 500-year level, before the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources could complete its environmental review of the diversion, was a major point of contention for Dayton and other Minnesota officials.
“We aren’t about trying to snub our nose at Minnesota,” Darrell Vanyo, a Cass County commissioner and chairman of the Diversion Authority board, said in an interview Monday. “We really would like to make an effort to be in their good graces.”
The letter from Vanyo was sent electronically Monday to Dayton in response to points the Minnesota governor made before and during a visit to Moorhead last week.
In his letter, Vanyo noted Dayton had said in an interview during his visit last week that there is near unanimous agreement that some form of long-term flood protection is needed. Vanyo added in his letter that any project is unlikely to find universal acceptance.
“But we also hear, loud and clear, your concern that we had not adequately respected Minnesota’s process,” Vanyo wrote to Dayton, adding that wasn’t the Diversion Authority’s intention.
Despite Minnesota’s objections, the Diversion Authority went ahead with construction of the ring dike to protect the communities of Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke subdivision south of Fargo, upstream on the Red River.
Diversion officials decided to proceed with the ring dike, which they said was independent of the diversion, after Minnesota officials admitted they couldn’t block the project.
Limiting future construction to the 100-year level, which Vanyo said he was told unofficially would not be objectionable to Minnesota officials, would increase the cost of the ring dike, assuming it is raised later to the 500-year flood level, Vanyo said.
The communities that would be protected by the ring dike, which had been expected to cost $65 million, are in the “staging area” of the proposed $1.8 billion flood-control diversion, which would construct a 36-mile channel to divert water around Fargo-Moorhead during major floods. When in operation, the diversion would cause the Oxbow area to be inundated by water.
In other “commitments” to satisfy Minnesota concerns, Vanyo offered to delay construction of the diversion until Minnesota completes its environmental review, with the understanding that the DNR agrees to “use its best efforts” to complete the study by July 1, 2015.
Vanyo also offered to agree to add representation on the Diversion Authority board, “including upstream Minnesota interests.” Dayton had complained that Minnesota was underrepresented on the board.
“Minnesota actually has greater representation on the current Diversion Authority Board than would be expected based on funding contributions,” Vanyo wrote to the governor, “but I am prepared to propose adjustments that would provide a seat at the table for areas not currently represented.”
The new seat would come with the understanding that any additional members would recuse themselves from closed sessions involving litigation in which they have an interest, including a lawsuit challenging the diversion by a joint authority of Minnesota’s Wilkin County and North Dakota’s Richland County, both upstream.
The Minnesota DNR has filed a friend of the court brief in support of the lawsuit.
Finally, Vanyo agreed the diversion board would “use its best efforts to seek a prompt resolution of the litigation,” starting with a letter to the judge asking for a status conference about how best to do that.
Matt Swenson, Dayton’s press secretary, said the governor’s office received Vanyo’s letter late Monday afternoon.
“Governor Dayton has not yet had a chance to review it,” he said.
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who was briefed on Vanyo’s letter, called it an encouraging development.
“They’re asking for a negotiated settlement, which I think is very appropriate,” Dalrymple told the editorial board of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. “I think it’s a positive step.”
The Diversion Authority board meets Friday, but might not be able to discuss Vanyo’s proposed concessions until its October meeting, Vanyo said.
Vanyo said he discussed his proposals with Kevin Campbell, a Clay County commissioner, and Nancy Otto, a Moorhead council member, both fellow board members on the Diversion Authority.

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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