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North Dakota House budget writers signal support for extra $133 million for F-M diversion, short of planners' request

The Red River churns through the dam by Trefoil Park in Fargo on Monday, March 25. The river, still ice-covered in stretches, likely won’t fully break open here this week as freezing temperatures continue to delay a spring thaw, weather service meteorologist Greg Gust said. David Samson / The Forum

BISMARCK — North Dakota House budget-writers signaled support Tuesday, March 26, for an extra $133 million for the Fargo-Moorhead diversion, short of what planners of the flood protection project and Gov. Doug Burgum have sought.

The increased funding is in line with what state senators approved through a larger package of water projects last month. A division of the House Appropriations Committee discussed the project Tuesday morning but didn't take formal action on the budget.

The Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority came to the Legislature this year with a request for an extra $300 million from the state on top of the $570 million already committed. The push came after delays and a compromise with the state of Minnesota bumped up project costs to $2.75 billion.

Burgum, a Republican and former software executive from Fargo, has supported the Diversion Authority's request for $300 million. He previously called Fargo-Moorhead diversion funding a "no-brainer" and a "bargain," though lawmakers have expressed concerns about legal and regulatory hurdles facing the project as well as other water infrastructure priorities.

Burgum's spokesman Mike Nowatzki noted the federal government recently committed another $300 million for the diversion.

"The governor believes that this is a cost-effective project deserving of the state's support to match the additional federal support that was recently announced," Nowatzki said Tuesday.

Nowatzki said Burgum supports funding all of the flood control projects recommended by the State Water Commission, which he chairs.

Rocky Schneider, a spokesman for the Diversion Authority, said the funding levels eyed by lawmakers are "not consistent with the funding share provided to other projects and risks further delaying the diversion project."

Meanwhile, lawmakers may seek to add conditions on the state's funding for the diversion. Bismarck Republican Rep. Mike Nathe, a member of the appropriations panel, said he wants to "make sure that they meet our expectations," but he didn't specify what conditions lawmakers may impose.

Under the Senate version of the water budget, lawmakers would add "legislative intent" for $66.5 million for two additional two-year budget cycles, extending the existing funding plan to the 2027-29 biennium.

Tuesday's discussion came as the Fargo area prepares to fight a rising Red River. Last week, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney declared a state of emergency in anticipation of spring flooding and "Sandbag Central" opened Tuesday morning.

Thursday will mark 10 years to the day that the Red River at Fargo reached a historic crest of nearly 41 feet. Diversion backers have cited that near-disaster as evidence of the project's necessity.

Osnabrock Republican Rep. David Monson, who chairs the appropriations division that discussed the diversion Tuesday, noted this session's funding "isn't going to help" this year's flood fight.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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