The task force headed by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum identified some major changes to the stalled Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project in its final meeting on Monday.
However, many legal, technical and financial questions remain to revive the more than $2 billion plan for diverting the Red River and hold back flood waters around the two cities. And changes to the project will likely bring significant cost increases.
The task force got to work this fall after a judge halted construction on the project, saying the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources needed to permit work any work affecting the state's waters.
The task force did not reach consensus on a specific plan, but agreed on some parameters, including that the project should provide protection for a 100-year flood event.
Task force members also agreed how much water can safely pass through Fargo Moorhead during a flood.
A key point of contention is the alignment of a dam that would hold back flood water on the Red River and divert it to a 30-mile-long diversion channel around the west side of Fargo.
Minnesota officials said the project's design protected too much previously flooded land in North Dakota, while forcing water onto land in Minnesota that has not flooded before.
That was one of the main reasons Minnesota denied a permit for the dam last year.
The task force identified several options that would move the dam closer to Fargo, flood more land in North Dakota and less in Minnesota.
Burgum said that is a major achievement.
"We've really identified that there are changes that can be made to the project that maintain federal authorization, achieve the flood protection and have the potential for a Minnesota permit," he said.
Still, there are still many challenges. Any design change must be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers if the project is to keep its federal authorization. Changes will likely raise the price tag for the project by several hundred million dollars.
And there were still notes of dissension from those upstream of Fargo-Moorhead.
Tim Fox, an attorney from Breckenridge, said many rural residents still feel ignored. He said limiting damage from the project is critical to gaining support from upstream residents.
People are "going through a lot of anguish finding out that they're going to have four or five feet of water on their property when they've never been flooded," Fox said. "And some of those will be looking at the cost of insurance, flood insurance."
Next in the nearly decade-long diversion project, engineers will fine tune options that the task force considered. Then the diversion authority will try again for a Minnesota permit and seek Corps of Engineers approval.
At its final meeting, Dayton told the task force he has realized there is no perfect solution.
"The perfect is the enemy of the good. I think we've taken the good here and made it very good," Dayton said. "But it's never going to be perfect and nothing of this magnitude is not going to have some effect on some people."