The Army Corps of Engineers believes the best way to protect Fargo Moorhead from flooding is to divert some of the water around the cities.
After last year's record flood, the project was put on a fast track.
The Army Corps developed several options and asked local officials to choose one.
On Thursday, after months of discussion a task force of local officials unanimously recommended a diversion that runs west of Fargo through North Dakota.
As she offered a second to the motion, Moorhead City Council member Nancy Otto called the vote historic.
"For everything we've gone through this is really our first step. Our first step. And now we proceed from here to put everything in order to make this happen," Otto said.
Next week elected city and county leaders will ratify the north Dakota plan.
But it won't be the only proposal studied. That's because a diversion plan with a route through Minnesota came in as the most cost effective. The federal government will only pay 65 percent of the Minnesota plan. Local governments will need to pay the extra cost of a more expensive North Dakota plan they prefer. So the Army Corp of Engineers will further study both plans.
That local share could be between $600 and $700 million. Minnesota and North Dakota must decide how to share that cost.
The Army Corps says North Dakota gets 90 percent of the benefits from a diversion, so North Dakota would pay 90 percent of the local share.
But Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland says that's a discussion for governors, not mayors.
"The discussion on the monies that get brought to the table by the states must be left with the governors, with the governors staffs, with the two states. We can't sit around a table as local elected officials and make those decisions for them," Voxland said.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he's been discussing the issue weekly with North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven.
Clay County Commissioner Kevin Campbell says Minnesota is willing to pay more for a North Dakota diversion.
"Actually the $100 million we're proposing to bring to the table for a North Dakota diversion is already more than that 10 percent share," Campbell said. "So we're upping the ante by having it in North Dakota with the Minnesota money."
The Army Corps of Engineers faces a big challenge over the next few months studying the two massive engineering projects. The goal is to have plans finalized by December so they can be included in a federal spending bill.
Even if the funding falls into place there are many other questions. Fargo Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney says because the North Dakota diversion crosses four tributaries, it's sure to raise concerns among environmentalists.
"There's still a huge environmental impact issue in North Dakota which we're very concerned about," he said. "But we might as well put the money on the table and find out what's going on and if it comes out we can't do the North Dakota project, the Minnesota project comes back."
Fargo-Moorhead officials have now taken the first step toward permanent flood protection, but it will be at least two years before construction starts and a decade or more before it's completed.