Army Corps chief tours flooded areas, touts Fargo-Moorhead diversion as high federal priority
FARGO — The chief of the Army Corps of Engineers told the Metro Diversion Authority board that the flood-control project is a top national priority, and federal funding is in place to begin major construction this spring.
Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite made the remarks Tuesday, April 16, after seeing areas that are now flooding but will be protected once the $2.75 billion diversion is completed, which local leaders hope will be in 2025.
Construction on a $46 million inlet for the diversion channel, which will divert Red River floodwater around Fargo-Moorhead, will resume this spring once weather conditions permit. Next spring, work will begin on a control structure for the North Dakota Wild Rice River. The diversion was significantly revised to win approval from Minnesota regulators.
Semonite said if Congress appropriates more money, work could also soon begin to elevate a bridge over Interstate 29 and associated roads as well as on the project’s western embankment, all in North Dakota.
“Once we start a project, it’s a big deal for Congress,” Semonite said. “Once we start something, let’s see it through to completion.”
Congress doesn’t like to see projects that are only half-completed, the general added. “I think that gives you a lot of momentum in future years,” he said.
Construction stalled for two years because a federal judge issued an injunction halting work pending a lawsuit filed by upstream opponents seeking to block the diversion.
Last week, U.S. District Judge John Tunheim modified his order, allowing work on the inlet, Wild Rice control structure and related features in North Dakota to resume, since they will not affect Minnesota waters unless the project is completed.
Semonite, who first visited Fargo-Moorhead two years ago, said the diversion is one of the Army Corps’ top priorities and can serve as a model for other large projects because of the creative, public-private partnership process. “This is one of the most innovative flood-control projects in the entire country,” he said.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., joined Semonite for the meeting with the Diversion Authority board.
“We’ve got the federal funding in place,” Hoeven said, adding that North Dakotans should understand the federal government’s firm commitment to the project, which includes $750 million in funding.
Hoeven said the diversion project is regional in scope. Besides protecting the Fargo-Moorhead area, it also will protect areas that are vulnerable to overland flooding from the Sheyenne and Maple rivers, including the communities of Harwood and Argusville, which are seeing flooding this spring.
“This is about comprehensive flood control for the region,” Hoeven said. “We have to keep remembering that.”
The Diversion Authority is seeking an additional $300 million from the state of North Dakota, which so far has committed $570 million. Cass County and Fargo taxpayers voted to increase sales taxes that will generate $1 billion for the project.
Kevin Campbell, a Clay County commissioner and vice chairman of the Diversion Authority board, said diversion officials are working to address the concerns of the Minnesota communities of Georgetown, Comstock and Wolverton, all of which will see impacts from the project.
“We want to work with those communities,” he said. “I look forward to that continued communication.”
Mary Scherling, a Cass County commissioner and chairwoman of the Diversion Authority board, said negotiations are continuing with landowners, including those whose property will be in the path of the diversion channel.
“We’re excited to go forward now and complete this project,” she said. “The gears are starting to turn on that. We’ll see some significant work as soon as the weather turns.”