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Peterson asks Army Corps to revisit diversion plan with northern impact

FARGO - Western Minnesota's congressman has asked engineers to take a fresh look at a version of a flood control diversion for Fargo-Moorhead that would avoid creating a floodwater retention area that has sparked fierce upstream opposition. Rep. ...


FARGO – Western Minnesota’s congressman has asked engineers to take a fresh look at a version of a flood control diversion for Fargo-Moorhead that would avoid creating a floodwater retention area that has sparked fierce upstream opposition.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revisit earlier designs for the diversion channel that would not temporarily store Red River water south of Fargo-Moorhead, as the current project proposes.

“We need to look at this,” Peterson told the editorial board of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.


Many downstream communities in Minnesota now are protected by ring dikes, Peterson said, including Hendrum and Georgetown.

Officials discarded the earlier diversion proposal without upstream retention when an Army Corps of Engineers analysis estimated downstream impacts greater than 2 feet in areas. More than 4,500 structures would be impacted on properties all the way to the Canadian border, according to the Corps analysis.

The Diversion Authority was informed by federal officials that it would have to mitigate all of the projects “negative impacts,” a costly and cumbersome requirement that led to that proposal’s abandonment, said Darrell Vanyo, the authority’s chairman.

“We could not find a zero point all the way to the Canadian border,” he said, referring to an area with no impacts. Corps engineers deemed that design “not implementable.”

Adding the ability to temporarily store water, enabling a controlled release to avoid downstream impacts, confines impacts to a much smaller area, affecting significantly fewer structures, said Aaron Snyder, a project manager for the Corps of Engineers.

Mitigation steps, including ring dikes to surround communities south of the metro such as Comstock, Minn., and Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke in North Dakota, have reduced the number of structures impacted by the upstream storage area from 387 to 58, according to Corps figures.

Excluding Comstock, 46 Minnesota residences lie within the proposed diversion’s staging areas.

“Of those, 21 will see direct impacts and the other 25 will be analyzed to determine if they can remain,” Snyder said. “That determination will be made based on safety and access during flood events.”


Still, Snyder said, the Corps will re-examine a diversion without upstream storage.

“We’re always happy to take another look,” he said, adding that engineers continually are working to minimize impacts and increase benefits.

Peterson said he asked the engineers to re-examine a diversion without upstream staging because the project’s proponents and opponents will have to find a compromise solution.

To do that, each side must be willing to give up something, he said.

“I’m paying attention to this,” Peterson said of the need for permanent flood protection in Fargo-Moorhead. “Forty percent of my Moorhead constituents work in Fargo, so we can’t abandon Fargo.”

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who also met recently with The Forum editorial board, agreed finding permanent flood protection for Fargo is important for Minnesota. He also said the Minnesota environmental review process must be followed.

“There are a lot of Minnesotans who work in Fargo,” Franken said, echoing Peterson’s comment. “It is in our interest to make sure Fargo stays above water.”

Diversion proponents continue to look for ways to mitigate impacts, Vanyo said.


“I’m baffled by the constant ideas that people come up with that have already been analyzed,” he said.

A second look at a diversion without an upstream storage component is unlikely to yield a different result, Vanyo said.

“It seems as though we continue to spin our wheels on things that have been studied,” he said.

The Diversion Authority board is scheduled to meet Oct. 9 and will discuss a proposal Vanyo offered Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who recently criticized Minnesota’s representation on the board.

Minnesota has two members, compared to seven for North Dakota, representation that reflects financial contributions to the project and was agreed upon by all of the local governments comprising the authority, Vanyo said.

Vanyo has offered to add a member to be nominated by upstream interests in Minnesota’s Wilkin County or North Dakota’s Richland County. He expects to receive names before the board’s Oct. 9 meeting.

Dayton has also criticized diversion officials for starting construction on the staging area ring dikes this summer, before the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has completed 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.

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