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Published February 02, 2010, 07:33 AM

Fargo mayor favors ND-side flood diversion channel

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The man who led efforts to protect Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn. from record Red River flooding last spring said Monday he favored a plan to build a diversion channel in North Dakota over a cheaper proposal backed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

By: DAVE KOLPACK, Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The man who led efforts to protect Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn. from record Red River flooding last spring said Monday he favored a plan to build a diversion channel in North Dakota over a cheaper proposal backed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Metro Flood Management Committee's prefered plan for a 35,000-cubic-feet-per-second channel on the North Dakota side meets cost-benefit ratio requirements for federal funding, the Army Corps told the committee Monday.

The $1.3 billion plan will require about $783 million in local funding — more than twice the investment needed by the Corps-backed proposal.

North Dakota authorities estimate emergency services and residents stacked some 18 million sandbags to hold back the Red River for 61 days in early 2009, and the city survived two record crests.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, who at times overruled federal and state authorities during that massive operation, said the projected cost of the diversion was shocking but that residents have told him they can't endure another flood fight.

"I've been asked over and over again to endorse the North Dakota diversion," Walaker said. "If the numbers stay where they're at, I will endorse the North Dakota diversion."

The Army Corps of Engineers has pushed for a 20,000-cubic-feet-per-second channel on the Minnesota side that would qualify for 65 percent federal funding and require local funding of only $305 million.

"Our role is to make sure the federal government is making the best investment with federal dollars," said Aaron Snyder, corps project manager.

Walaker fears a diversion of that size would not suffice.

"It doesn't provide us with the protection we need," he said.

Preliminary studies by the flood committee set a goal for local cost share between the two states at 90 percent for North Dakota, which stands to gain the most benefit from the diversion, and 10 percent for Minnesota. Two Minnesota state lawmakers, Rep. Morrie Lanning and Sen. Keith Langseth, said they would be willing to up the ante.

"I have said publicly that $100 million from the state of Minnesota over a period of time is doable," Lanning said.

"We would be so happy to fund (a diversion channel on) the North Dakota side that we would very willingly come up with the money," Langseth said.

Some committee members said they were worried about possible downstream impacts, especially to smaller Minnesota towns near the north-flowing Red River. Corps officials said the North Dakota diversion could add more than 10 inches to the river near Hendrum, Minn., if there was a repeat of last year's floods.

"We're talking 10 years down the road for this project to be completed," Snyder said. "A lot of things can be done to offset those impacts as we move forward, such as infrastructure and storage."

The committee must make a final decision by April 15.

North Dakota's congressional delegation announced Monday that it has secured more than $15 million in the 2011 budget to be used for planning, engineering and design of a flood control project.

"Clearly what we need now is a consensus plan," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

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