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DNR moves ahead with Red River diversion plan study

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Floodwall construction in Fargo, N.D.
Floodwall construction work east of Fargo City Hall in downtown Fargo, N.D., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015.
Ann Arbor Miller | MPR News 2015

A revised Red River flood diversion project to protect Fargo-Moorhead needs an environmental review, one that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plans to complete by November. 

The more than $2 billion project has been on hold since the DNR rejected a permit last year because the project shifted too much flooding from North Dakota to Minnesota. A federal judge ruled the project needed Minnesota permits to proceed. 

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum convened a task force to address Minnesota concerns, and a revised project was submitted to the state in March. 

The changes are expected to add at least $200 million to the project cost, and require Minnesota to complete a supplemental environmental impact assessment.

After a recent conversation with DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Paul District Commander Sam Calkins is optimistic.

"In their analysis to date they haven't seen any fatal flaws in the application. So I thought that was good news. It's not you know, again not a promise that the answer would ultimately be yes, but he indicated that he thought what he had seen so far, it was looking pretty good," said Calkins. 

The USACE is working with the DNR to complete the environmental assessment. The additional study is expected to cost about $450,000. 

Calkins told Fargo-Moorhead officials the flood diversion remains a top priority for the Corps of Engineers. 

"The Corps is behind this project because we're fully committed to the idea that Fargo and Moorhead and the metro area need and deserve the protection that this project would provide," said Calkins at a meeting of the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority on Thursday. 

The Corps of Engineers is also invested in the Fargo-Moorhead project because it's been selected as a model for a public private partnership to finance the work. It would be the first time the Corps has used what's called P3 financing. 

North Dakota Republican U.S. Senator John Hoeven thinks the project will be a good fit with any big federal infrastructure project developed by the Trump administration. 

"Let's put money into this P3 and show that P3 is not only a solution for the Red River Valley but the P3 can be a real solution for the country's incredible backlog that the corps of engineers has in terms of infrastructure projects that need to get done," said Hoeven.

Construction funding will need to wait until Minnesota determines whether it will permit the project and legal challenges are resolved.