Minnesota lawmakers say they want diversion board split equally between two states
FARGO - In the latest interstate friction over flood diversion, four Minnesota state legislators say they want Minnesota to have equal representation on a board overseeing the proposed Fargo-Moorhead project. They want to change the board's rules...
FARGO – In the latest interstate friction over flood diversion, four Minnesota state legislators say they want Minnesota to have equal representation on a board overseeing the proposed Fargo-Moorhead project.
They want to change the board’s rules to state that majorities of both North Dakota members and Minnesota members would be necessary for any action to be taken.
“We really felt … that this was the right path forward to successfully completing the project and protecting the interests of Minnesota communities,” said Rep. Paul Marquart, who proposed the idea along with Sen. Kent Eken, Rep. Ben Lien and Rep. Jay McNamar in a letter sent Wednesday to Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo.
The nine-member board has seven North Dakotan members and two from Minnesota. Marquart said he wants more Minnesotans on the board, but more importantly, he wants any action to require a majority of Minnesota members in favor.
The legislators sent the letter after Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton strongly criticized the Diversion Authority for having only two members from Minnesota. Dayton called on local legislators to propose a way to bring balance to the board.
Vanyo said he was “puzzled” by Wednesday’s letter.
He said he was still waiting for a response to his offer last month to add one Minnesotan to the board with limited voting powers. Vanyo wrote a letter on Sept. 19 to two groups critical of the diversion, the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority and the MNDAK Upstream Coalition, asking them to nominate that board member.
Vanyo said Wednesday’s letter from state legislators would likely be discussed at the Diversion Authority’s upcoming meeting on Oct. 9.
“I don’t think it’s going to sit well with the board because there’s many reasons we ended up with the configuration we did,” Vanyo said.
The $1.8 billion diversion project would use a 36-mile channel to divert major floodwaters around Fargo-Moorhead. It would submerge swaths of farmland in the “staging area” south of Fargo-Moorhead when used to combat flooding, a project feature that has prompted many residents south of Fargo-Moorhead to oppose the proposal.
Vanyo said, “in all honesty,” he doesn’t think the Diversion Authority should have equal representation between North Dakota and Minnesota.
He said the makeup of the board is fair because Minnesota is funding a smaller share of the Red River flood control project compared to North Dakota.
“Why in the world would we give someone 50 percent of the voting rights on a board when we’re paying 90 percent?” he said of North Dakota.
But Nathan Berseth, a member of the MNDAK Upstream Coalition, said board membership “shouldn’t just be based on those who are ponying up the money.”
Berseth called the push for equal representation a “step in the right direction” and dismissed Vanyo’s offer to add one Minnesotan to the board as “a pander and an insult.”
Perry Miller, chairman of the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority, called Vanyo’s offer “just a PR ploy to pander to Minnesota to make it look like they’re making concessions when in reality, they aren’t.”
“If the Diversion Authority is really interested in remaking the entire board, then we would welcome participation in that,” Miller said. “If their offer is going to be to give us a token seat with absolutely no, you know, no authority, what’s the point?”
If the Diversion Authority refuses to provide Minnesota with equal representation, the four Minnesota legislators stated they will create a new board in Minnesota to advise Dayton, the Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation on diversion matters.
“This board would have the authority to negotiate with the Diversion Authority in order to ensure Minnesota’s interests are protected,” the legislators wrote.
Vanyo said the message was “make it an equal board or you’re gonna pay.”
“We don’t want this agitation because we know it is damaging at the federal level,” he said.
Minnesota and North Dakota officials have been at odds over the diversion in recent months. Dayton and other officials in Minnesota, including Marquart, criticized the Diversion Authority for beginning to build ring dikes this summer to protect communities in the staging area, before the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources completes its environmental review of the diversion.
Opponents of the project have sued in federal court seeking to halt the project in part due to the pending DNR review, prompting the DNR to file a friend of the court brief in the lawsuit that asserts its regulatory rights on the Red River.
Diversion officials contend the dikes aren’t part of the diversion project.
The lawsuit is still pending.
The project, designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has been approved by Congress but is still awaiting federal funding, which would amount to more than $800 million.