Red River diversion report leaves dam location in question

Floodwall construction in Fargo, N.D.
Officials were pursuing an innovative approach to build a nearly $2 billion flood diversion project in the Fargo-Moorhead area Nov. 9, 2015.
Ann Arbor Miller | MPR News 2015

A task force assembled by the governors of North Dakota and Minnesota released its final recommendations Thursday for re-starting a stalled $2.2 billion Red River diversion project meant to protect Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota, from a frequent spring flood threat.

But the recommendations by the 16-member panel don't include a location for a dam that would hold back water in times of serious flooding.

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, who also chairs the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority, said he expects engineers from the state of Minnesota and from the two cities to identify a location within a month.

Mahoney said a technical team would figure out a location that could get the necessary permits to proceed.

Mahoney has said that depending on what happens with the dam location, the total cost of changes could range between $200 million and $400 million. Others believe that's a low estimate.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton assembled the task force last year following a federal judge's decision to shut down the project until it gets the necessary permits from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

A group of upstream residents in the two states filed a lawsuit opposing the diversion, saying there is a cheaper option that doesn't flood farmland.

Construction of the first phase of the 30-mile diversion channel began last year but U.S. District Judge John Tunheim, of Minnesota, halted construction in September over complaints that project managers did not obtain the necessary permits from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The task force appointed by Burgum and Dayton held five meetings last year to look at ways to get the project back on track. The group includes elected representatives from both states and residents who live upstream and downstream from the metro area of more than 200,000 people.

Burgum and Dayton said in statements they were encouraged by the work of the task force.

Burgum said the project needs to be one that can get the necessary permits under North Dakota and Minnesota law.

"The project that was previously submitted to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources did not meet our state's laws and regulations," Dayton said. "Minnesota is committed to helping identify a solution, but major changes must be made to the proposed project."

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