Minnesota is joining a federal lawsuit challenging the $2 billion Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project.
"We joined a federal lawsuit already in federal district court asking that they have to withhold any further action on the project until they've satisfied the Minnesota environmental requirements," said Gov. Mark Dayton. "We're claiming the negative environmental impact but also the fact that the Corps and the Diversion Authority are proceeding without the permitting approval of Minnesota's DNR."
The original suit was filed by the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority in 2013. That group sued the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Board of Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop construction while Minnesota completed an environmental review.
The diversion plan calls for a large levee to be built south of Fargo-Moorhead to hold back flood waters from the Red River and divert them into a 30-mile-long channel around the cities. A permit was required because the Minnesota DNR considered the levee to be a high-hazard dam.
Opponents say the project will flood farmland and displace residents south of Fargo-Moorhead. They argue that options other than the diversion should have been considered and that the current diversion design should be modified to reduce upstream impacts.
In October, the Minnesota DNR rejected permits for the Red River flood diversion based on negative environmental and social impacts.
However, the Army Corps of Engineers subsequently awarded a contract to start construction on the project, which prompted the state's decision to join the lawsuit, according to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
"If the DNR allowed construction to proceed without objection, we would be risking our standing to object at a later date," he said in a statement. "Moreover, we cannot credibly work on an alternate plan while the Corps and the Diversion Authority are beginning construction of this contested project."
Landwehr said the state does not want to keep Fargo Moorhead from having adequate flood protection.
"The DNR's decision to intervene isn't about stopping flood protection, which is important," Landwehr said. "We want to find a mutually agreeable solution that speaks to the shared responsibility we have to protect Minnesotans and North Dakotans living in this flood plain."
Fargo Moorhead Diversion Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo called the lawsuit bad news, saying he was hopeful Minnesota would be willing to negotiate a solution to the environmental concerns.