Legal settlement in the works for Fargo-Moorhead flood project

Floodwall construction in Fargo, N.D.
Floodwall construction work east of Fargo City Hall is under in downtown Fargo, N.D., in 2015.
Ann Arbor Miller | MPR News 2015

A settlement is in the works to end years of legal wrangling over a massive Red River flood protection project for the Fargo-Moorhead area.

The nearly $3 billion Fargo Moorhead Diversion Project, which would divert the flood-prone Red River away from the population centers of Fargo and Moorhead when the river rises, has been in various stages of development and construction for more than a decade.

Counties, cities and a watershed district upstream of the project have challenged the diversion in federal and state court, contending the large dam and 30-mile diversion channel would worsen flooding for residents upstream of Fargo-Moorhead.

This week, the Fargo Moorhead Diversion Authority, which runs the project, approved a settlement agreement to end years of legal cases.

Project opponents must also approve the agreement.

The legal action has slowed the project, creating uncertainty about how delays will affect the final cost.

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"This potential for a consensus settlement and removal of litigation is monumental for the program, and providing that certainty," said Diversion Authority executive director Joel Paulsen. "Our challenge related to the implementation of the project is certainty in cost and schedule. The ability to have certainty is critical to the program."

Paulsen said he’s encouraged by the fact the agreement was negotiated by all parties to the legal cases. It still needs to be approved by Minnesota’s Wilkin County, North Dakota’s Richland County; the towns of Comstock and Wolverton in Minnesota; and the Minnesota-based Buffalo-Red River Watershed District board.

It’s unclear how quickly those entities will consider the agreement.

It’s estimated construction of the Red River diversion project will take six to eight years.