FARGO — The top official who oversees Army Corps of Engineers projects and was responsible for boosting federal funding for the diversion met with local officials and pledged his continuing support to keep the $2.75 billion flood project on track.
R.D. James, the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, toured flood-control sites and met with local officials on Friday, Nov. 1, as the Red River continued to recede slowly from an unusual fall flood.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Gov. Doug Burgum and local officials thanked James for his support — earlier this year he approved increasing the federal government’s commitment to $750 million — and urged the administration to maintain payments on schedule.
The Metro Diversion Authority and Corps of Engineers are working together to complete the diversion channel by 2026, and the project is expected to be fully operational by 2027, an ambitious timeline.
The accelerated construction of the project is made possible by a pioneering process involving federal, state and local governments in partnership with the private sector — what’s called a public-private partnership.
During the meeting in the chambers of City Hall, as photographs of past flood fights flashed on large screens, local officials stressed the need for permanent flood protection in an area confronted by repeated major floods that threaten catastrophic damage to a metro area of 250,000 people.
“We use school children to help us with our flood fights,” Mary Scherling, a Cass County commissioner and chairwoman of the diversion board told James. “We’re just close to losing. We can’t continue doing that.”
James, who grew up on the Mississippi River and served for years on the Mississippi River Commission, called himself a “flood control guy” and said he would continue to do all he can in his official capacity to keep the diversion moving ahead.
“I have fought floods my entire life,” he said. “I sympathize with you, and I sympathize with what you're trying to do.”
Hoeven thanked James for his support for the project. “He’s been a champion for us,” he said. Money should be available for the diversion, Hoeven said. He noted that funding legislation for fiscal 2020 provides $233 million beyond the administration’s request for flood control projects and $100 million for “alternate delivery” projects including public-private partnerships of the kind driving the diversion.
Over the past year, the diversion has gained momentum, Scherling said, including securing a critical permit from Minnesota regulators and an order from a federal judge allowing work on certain diversion features in North Dakota to go ahead in the face of a lawsuit challenging the project.
Col. Karl Jansen, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Paul district, said work continues on the inlet structure. Late this month, officials hope to award a bid for the Wild Rice control structure and “robust design work” is under way for the Red River control structure and an embankment.
The three structures, along with a 20-mile southern embankment to allow water to temporarily pool when the diversion is operating, comprise the $750 million federal commitment to the project, Jansen said.
“Definitely moving ahead,” he said. “We’re very pleased that we’ve been able to resume our efforts here since April of this year.”