BISMARCK — North Dakota's congressional delegation announced that financing for the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion took a major step forward with an agreement opening the door to apply for $510 million in low-interest financing.
The announcement was made Tuesday, Oct. 8, inviting the $2.75 billion flood protection project to formally apply for the loan package, a critical step in providing access to the low-interest loan program.
The memorandum of understanding was signed by Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, at the Great Plains & EmPower North Dakota Energy Conference at Bismarck State College.
"This hugely important loan will reduce the tax burden of the diversion project and give assurances to taxpayers, state legislators and the private market that the project is affordable and moving forward," Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement. "We're deeply grateful to the EPA and Administrator Wheeler for making this financing available and signing the MOU" — memorandum of understanding — "renewing the EPA's commitment to this longstanding partnership between the states and federal government."
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and other members of the state's congressional delegation worked with the EPA to enable the diversion project to qualify for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, commonly called WIFIA, loan program.
The low-interest loan program will significantly reduce borrowing costs for the project, according to Hoeven.
"This program provides flexibility and lower rates, which could result in at least $600 million in reduced interest payments," he said.
"We've worked hard in recent years to ensure flood protection in the Red River Valley can use the WIFIA program to reduce project costs," Hoeven, a member of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. "This is an important element of our efforts to build permanent, comprehensive flood protection for the region, and it bolsters the increased funding we have advanced for Army Corps construction as well as P3" — public-private partnerships — "like this one."
Wheeler said in a statement that the loan package would help build a "project that would protect hundreds of thousands of North Dakotans from flooding."
Hoeven briefed members of the Metro Diversion Authority board on the low-interest loan program and how it will help to reduce financing costs for the diversion project, which local leaders hope can be completed by 2027, in a round-table meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Mary Scherling, chairwoman of the Diversion Authority board and a member of the Cass County Commission, thanked the congressional delegation for its work on the loan program accessibility, which she called a "critical financial step."
"This loan would not have been possible without their vision and efforts in Washington," she said. "Having a low-interest loan helps solidify our financial plan."
Although the project faces legal and administrative challenges, a federal judge is allowing construction work on the project in North Dakota to proceed.
Under a revised plan stemming from a task force assembled by Burgum and former Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, most of the impacts from an upstream water storage area have been shifted to North Dakota, where most of the flood protection benefits will be realized. That compromise plan won a crucial permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a decision now challenged by upstream opponents.
During extreme floods, control structures will divert half of the flows from the Red River via a 36-mile diversion channel that bypasses the Fargo-Moorhead metro area. To regulate flows to minimize downstream impacts, water will be stored temporarily upstream, south of the metro area.