Watershed district won't issue permit for Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project

Opponents of the Fargo Moorhead diversion project wear construction vests.
During a Buffalo-Red River Watershed District board meeting in April in Dilworth, Minn., opponents of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project wear construction vests showing their objection to a project they say will unfairly flood their land.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News file

By Barry Amundson | The (Fargo) Forum

The Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Project encountered a major setback when the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District and its managers voted against a permit for the $2.75 billion project at a meeting Monday night.

The vote was 3-3, which wasn't enough to provide a majority for the permit, thus it was denied.

The district had drafted 10 proposed conditions for a permit in the past month for the project to divert Red River floodwater into a channel around the metro. They would have been added to the 54 conditions the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had added when issuing its permit.

However, the three managers in opposition weren't swayed to change their minds with the new conditions.

The board of managers also voted 4-1 to continue with its lawsuit contesting the DNR's decision that would allow the controversial flood-control project to be built.

Voting against the permit were managers Peter Fjestad of Fergus Falls, Cathy Affield of Kent and Troy Larson of Rothsay.

Voting in support were board president Jay Leitch of Moorhead, John Hanson of Audubon and Gerald Van Amburg of Moorhead.

Manager Mark Anderson of rural Moorhead didn't vote on the advice of his attorney as he would have had a conflict of interest.

Leitch did not vote on the lawsuit issue.

Rural residents on the Minnesota side of the border, some of whom would have faced buyouts of their property, applauded speakers who railed against the project.

The residents, mostly property owners, have appeared at numerous meetings since January to offer comments about the project.

Marcus Larson of the CW Valley Cooperative in Comstock said he didn't believe the project could be built for the figure that has been used and said it would probably cost from $4 to $5 billion. He said the landowners were simply fighting for their property. He urged that the lawsuit continue also to figure out details that he said haven't been vetted.

Larson and other Minnesota residents have said their land on higher ground would be sacrificed to save homes in the floodplain across the river in North Dakota.

Leitch said the conditions the watershed district was proposing were meant to protect rural residents on the Minnesota side. Some of those conditions which were negotiated with F-M Diversion Authority officials would have added more flood protection for Wolverton and Georgetown and would have saved some homes south of the Clay-Wilkin County line from buyouts.

"I don't think any of our board member are against flood protection for Fargo-Moorhead," Leitch said.

The rural residents for the most part have favored retention ponds upstream to hold water back during floods.

However, the Minnesota DNR has rejected that plan.