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McFeely: Fargo-Moorhead gets a Christmas present from the DNR

Forum columnist Mike McFeely

Merry Christmas, Fargo-Moorhead. A couple of days late, for sure, but the gift is monumental all the same.

A permit. A permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to build a Red River diversion. God bless us, everyone!

As for the bitter opponents of the diversion who reside in Richland County, N.D., and Wilkin County, Minn., better luck next time. Hope you were wearing your protective cups Thursday morning.

That's when the DNR, once seen by opponents as the knight in khaki armor who was going to put an end to the critical project, made the public pronouncement it was going to issue a permit for the flood channel around our cities. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, in a teleconference with local reporters, lauded the cooperation and negotiation with the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority that allowed his agency to decide the project met Minnesota law.

With that, the largest regulatory hurdle facing the historic undertaking was removed. The federal government is on board. North Dakota is on board. Now Minnesota is on board. The agency diversion foes once saw as their greatest ally in the fight to stop flood protection for Fargo-Moorhead turned out to be nothing of the sort.

If it wasn't snowing and blowing so dang much, it might have been a good day to move some serious dirt. Let's start digging Denny's Ditch. Now.

Oh, we know. It's not a done deal, final-final style, quite yet. There are hurdles. Always hurdles. Money. Conditions put in place by the DNR. And lawyers. Always lawyers.

But the diversion project, as it has done from the first day, moved forward. This was a leap more than a step — one giant leap for permanent flood protection, one might say — and that's nothing but good news. The diversion backers won again, the diversion lost again. It's sort of been a pattern.

Let's talk about the lawyering up. Diversion supporters expect upstream opponents to sue, possibly even the DNR now that it's given its approval, in their obsessive attempt to kill the project.

It will be an interesting day if opponents sue their one-time Minnesota besties, a day that will show how fraudulent the upstream resistance to the diversion has been all along. If opponents once had a case that Imperial Cass County tried to overrun them, and they probably did, Minnesota's involvement in the process and its resulting OK obliterated it.

The DNR denied the original plan two years ago, but then participated in the task force wisely put together by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and his Minnesota counterpart Mark Dayton. Minnesota worked closely with diversion supporters to craft a Plan B that would be legal — and acceptable to the adults in the room.

Upstream opponents never seemed to want to participate in the process, even when given the opportunity. They complained about not being heard, and when allowed seats at the table, they whined about not getting their way. It looked for all the world like Landwehr and the DNR finally figured out what the rest of us knew for years — that opponents never really had a viable option to the diversion and only wanted to stop Fargo from getting protection.

It's almost like it was an anti-Fargo thing more than an anti-diversion thing.

In the meantime, opponents viciously and personally attacked public officials who worked on the project for years. Burgum. Former Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker. Current Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney. Former Cass County Commissioner Darrell Vanyo. Former Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof. Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams. Clay County Commissioner Kevin Campbell. All loudly and cruelly eviscerated over public policy.

That will continue, no doubt. That's how the opponents operate.

Keep an eye on this, too: Opponents will make it all about the money. The opponents will stop hammering home the wrongheaded point that the diversion is illegal, because Minnesota's permit says it is not, and talk solely about the cost of the project.

It again exposes the fraud of opponents. Their goal, they always claimed, was about finding acceptable flood protection for Fargo, an alternative to the dastardly diversion. But given the chance to offer options, they came up empty. They banked on the DNR refusing to issue a permit. Having come up empty again, they'll work to starve the diversion of funding. It's not about alternatives, it's about trying to kick Fargo in the groin.

Speaking of which, we hope they were wearing their protective cups Thursday.

Belated merry Christmas, Fargo-Moorhead. It ain't over 'til it's over, as always, but this was a pretty significant present.