Minnesota DNR grants conditional permits for Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project

Floodwall construction in Fargo, N.D.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has granted a permit for an updated plan of a Red River diversion project meant to protect flood-prone Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn.
Ann Arbor Miller | MPR News 2015

Updated: 10:10 a.m. | Posted: 9:42 a.m.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has granted a conditional permit for the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project.

The approval comes after the DNR rejected the original project and a task force developed a Plan B.

"Plan B, with the conditions included in DNR's permit, represents a balanced approach to reducing flood risk in an important metropolitan area while protecting public safety and the environment," said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

He credited a partnership between the governors of Minnesota and North Dakota for informing the agency's decision to issue the permit.

The permit has 54 conditions the Fargo Moorhead Diversion Authority must meet in constructing the project, including environmental mitigation, DNR review and approval of all engineering plans prior to construction and approval of the project plan for operation and maintenance.

"We know our work has really only just begun. It is up to the Diversion Authority to now review the permit conditions and begin on the next steps to implement the project, which includes working with the DNR and the upstream entities to resolve the ongoing litigation," Moorhead Mayor — and Diversion Authority Chair — Del Rae Williams said in a statement.

Upstream opponents of the project filed suit in federal court to stop the project, and a federal judge ruled the project could not proceed without a Minnesota permit.

Floodwall construction in Fargo, N.D.
The permit has 54 conditions the Fargo Moorhead Diversion Authority must meet in constructing the project.
Ann Arbor Miller | MPR News

The Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project has been in the works for more than a decade, a response to a series of large floods including record events in 1997 and again in 2009.

The proposed project would use a dam and gates that could be lowered during a flood to divert water from the Red River to a 30-mile diversion channel, which would carry flood water around the west side of Fargo and back into the Red River north of the Fargo-Moorhead metro area.

Two years ago, the Minnesota DNR denied a permit for the project, saying the plan shifted too much flood water from North Dakota to Minnesota; protected large, sparsely populated areas in North Dakota; was incompatible with local land use ordinances; and didn't adequately mitigate environmental effects.

Last year, Gov. Mark Dayton and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum established a task force to develop a revised project more in line with Minnesota standards.

The task force agreed on a plan that shifted more of the flooding to North Dakota and adjusted the location of a dam so less undeveloped land in North Dakota is protected.

Dayton applauded Plan B and the DNR's conditions Thursday.

"Reliable and effective flood protection for the cities of Moorhead and Fargo and their surrounding regions is essential," he said in a statement. "It is a prerequisite for successful future economic growth, business expansion, job creation, and social vitality. Yet it cannot come at the excessive sacrifice of other people's lands, lives, and livelihoods. For a project of this magnitude and complexity, those considerations were also essential."

The design changes and construction delays pushed the projected price from $2.2 billion to $2.75 billion. The additional permit conditions imposed by the DNR could drive the cost even higher.

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