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Senators: Budget deal could fund F-M diversion

FARGO -- Provisions in a big spending bill that promises to avert a government shutdown are good news for proponents of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion, according to Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

FARGO -- Provisions in a big spending bill that promises to avert a government shutdown are good news for proponents of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion, according to Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently barred from beginning new flood projects, which means it's not allowed to start work on flood protection for the metro area.

The year-end spending bill includes authorization for new projects, extra funds for the corps and language favoring projects involving public-private partnerships, such as the diversion, Hoeven said Tuesday night, hours before the bill was officially filed.

Heitkamp said in a statement Wednesday that Fargo is "very well positioned" to benefit from the extra funds.

Public-private partnerships, or P3, are a way to get projects done faster and at lower cost. While the corps is not required to fund the diversion -- Congress may no longer earmark funds for specific projects -- top corps officials have praised the project, including its P3 readiness, during visits here.

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The $1.1 trillion omnibus bill to fund the federal government in fiscal year 2016 includes $690 million more than sought by the corps. The House is scheduled to vote on it Friday and senators have said their votes could follow the same day.

No less important for the diversion, federal funding of the project would also free up funds from the state of North Dakota. Lawmakers, who provided $69 million for Fargo's in-town dikes in this biennium, agreed to only fund the diversion channel and dam if the federal government begins paying its $800 million share of the project, last estimated in 2011 at $1.8 billion. The state is expected to pay $450 million as its share.

Diversion Authority officials on Tuesday identified lack of federal funding as one of three major obstacles they face. The other two are securing the blessings of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and resolving a lawsuit filed by upstream opponents of the diversion.

Both Heitkamp's and Hoeven's offices on Wednesday touted their work pushing the diversion project.

Heitkamp's office said she's worked to get Fargo officials access to officials at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, the corps and other federal agencies. She also got similar access for officials from Minot, which was hit hard by flooding in 2011 and is now working on its own flood project.

"Now that we've successfully fought to get new study and construction starts in the spending deal, it's critical to continue doing what I've been doing all along -- pressing the Army Corps and other federal partners to prioritize flood projects in North Dakota," Heitkamp said in a statement.

Hoeven's office said language allowing new starts and additional funding now in the omnibus bill came from a bill that he worked on as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee's energy and water subcommittee.

Besides helping Fargo-Moorhead with its flood project, Hoeven's office said the omnibus bill should help other communities. Minot would benefit with new flood-control studies being allowed. LaMoure's sewers would benefit from additional corps funding. And those paying flood insurance would benefit from more funding to ensure flood maps better reflect communities' flood protection efforts, especially as different phases of big projects are completed.

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Congress now just has to approve the bill.

Asked Tuesday if he thought there are enough "yea" votes, Hoeven said getting Congress to agree is hard but he believes it will pass.

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