Bill would require further study of Red River diversion plan

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Farm Forum

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A southeastern North Dakota lawmaker opposed to a Red River diversion project that would flood land in his district says impacts of the channel have not been addressed and more study is needed. Promoters of the project say it’s a ploy to delay the plan.

Republican Sen. Larry Luick, of Fairmount, has introduced a bill requiring the state Water Commission to study the project. Luick says there are negative consequences beyond those outlined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the commission should review water retention as an alternative to the diversion.

“I think it’s important for an independent third party to take a look at it,” Luick said on Jan. 14.

The nearly $2 billion diversion project would protect about 200,000 people in the Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota, metropolitan area. However, it would require a staging area upstream of the north-flowing river that would flood farmland, cemeteries and structures in times of high water.

Acting Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said $22 million is already being spent by the Corps and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to look into many of the issues in Luick’s bill.

“It’s not something that’s not already been studied. To reinvent the wheel would be fairly expensive,” Mahoney said. “I think they want something to slow down the diversion.”

The Fargo-Moorhead area battled major flooding three straight years, starting with a record crest in 2009. The 36-mile diversion channel has been authorized by Congress but federal funding for the project would need to be appropriated each year to cover construction costs, which would be shared by local, state and federal governments.

Luick said the study needs to include the effects of the diversion on crop insurance, sale and rental price of land, taxable valuation of property, and the impacts on business, communications, historical areas, schools, churches and cemeteries.

“I don’t even want to guess what those costs may be,” Luick said.

Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams agrees with Luick’s call for water retention, but said there is no “single solution” to protecting the area.

“We need a diversion, but we also need retention and ring diking and water conservation,” Williams said. “I know there are some down south saying that retention can do it all, and it can’t.”

Said Mahoney, “You will never get to the level of protection for a catastrophic event with just retention.”

Luick’s bill also is sponsored by Republican Sens. Gary Lee of Casselton and Bill Bowman of Bowman, Democratic Sen. Jim Dotzenrod of Wyndmere, and Republican Reps. Cynthia Schreiber Beck of Wahpeton and Wes Belter of Leonard.

“I guess it will be litmus test on what the rest of the legislators think about it,” Williams said. “But I hope that it doesn’t have any traction.”