The message from the Army Corps of Engineers to Fargo-Moorhead city leaders was a reassuring one: The Red River flood diversion project for the two cities is still on track.
Local officials were concerned that opposition might delay the project; communities downstream along the Red River fear the diversion will worsen flooding for them.
Army Corps of Engineers St. Paul District Commander Colonel Michael Price said in a meeting Thursday morning that the Corps is on track to meet all of its deadlines. Their goal is to present a plan to Congress by the end of the year.
Before that happens, the project must go through a rigorous review. Price said the Corps won't submit anything less than a bulletproof plan.
"Cause then we'll be back [here]," Price said. "We'll develop a bulletproof and we have kevlar flak vests to wrap around the project plan to ensure it is bulletproof."
Price said there could still be delays, but said that right now, the timetable appears solid.
U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., agrees that Congress should consider the project before the end of the year. Oberstar, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee where all such projects get their initial approval, is key to federal funding for the Fargo-Moorhead diversion.
Oberstar said the project needs to address the concerns about downstream flooding caused by the diversion. Corps analysis shows a Fargo-Moorhead diversion could increase river levels downstream by anywhere from a few inches to nearly two feet. But Oberstar said public comments in opposition to the diversion should not slow the project.
"What I have seen is not troubling, from my experience with projects of this nature nationwide," he said.
Oberstar said a proposal by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., to fund water retention projects through the agriculture committee will help address downstream flood impacts.
After hearing presentations about the project, Oberstar reiterated he believes the diversion is still on a fast track.
"It's a total community effort, community, county, Minnesota, North Dakota and the Corps of Engineers is on course and is determined to meet the deadlines and resolve this issue so the project can be completed" Oberstar said.
That was exactly what Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland wanted to hear. But the mayor is still cautious; he knows there's a lot of work that needs to happen in the next three months if Congress is to consider authorizing the diversion project in December.
"I think we have to wait and see after the report comes out and it goes into the last 30 days if there's any technical things that slow it down," Voxland said. "But at this point both the Corps and Congress think it's moving forward as fast as it can."
A recent court ruling will also help keep the project on track. A judge ruled land owners must allow access to engineers so they can survey property needed for the diversion.
The next deadline for the project is an October 13 scrutiny by the civil review works board. If all goes as planned, the project is then open to additional public comment before getting final Corps approval sometime in December.