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Mike McFeely, Published May 07 2009

McFeely: A long, painful road lies ahead

We’re still holding hands around the campfire, singing “Kumbaya” and swapping tales about fighting the good fight against the Flood of 2009. Tuesday’s remarkable meeting in Washington, D.C., was proof of that. Anybody who’s somebody was there, politicians of varying influence and affiliation laying the groundwork for permanent protection.

We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start diverting. Or something like that.

The meeting was a start, and a good one. We have all the heavy hitters saying something needs to be done, it needs to be done ASAP and we all need to work together to get it done. So far, so good. But the meeting also laid bare this unvarnished truth about keeping Fargo-Moorhead – and Georgetown, Hendrum, Harwood, Oxbow and every other town in the basin – dry when the Red River swells like Brett Favre’s ego:

This is going to be a long, arduous, contentious and sometimes painful process.

To which you might respond: Well, duh, Captain Naive.

Maybe it was the euphoria of the flood fight, maybe it was the idea of everybody – everybody – saying in unison, “Fargo-Moorhead needs permanent flood protection,” maybe it was Dennis Walaker buying a round for the house. But the sentiment that this process was going to move along expeditiously with minimal interference was strong.

And it still might – for a project of this magnitude.

Key words: for a project of this magnitude.

The truth is, Tuesday’s meeting also served as a wake-up call that protecting tens of thousands of people in an area the size of the southern Red River Valley when dozens upon dozens of stakeholders are involved is not something that’s going to be finished in five years, 10 years or perhaps 30 years. Gathered around the table in D.C. were representatives from enough government bodies to make a high school civics teacher curl up in the fetal position.

Mayors, U.S. senators and representatives, governors, county-level politicians, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers types. The federal government, two states, multiple counties and cities. That’s just a start. We haven’t yet started discussions about myriad other complicated topics such as environmental impact, agricultural ramifications, downstream effects. Have we missed anything? Probably only a thousand things.

And remember, we’re all in love with each other right now. Wait until we start watching out for No. 1. Wait until we start bickering over money. Wait until politics enter the picture – and, yes, they will. The honeymoon won’t last forever.

Because the fight against the Red this spring captured the nation’s imagination, Fargo-Moorhead and the Red River Valley are in the best possible position to get permanent flood protection. Everybody’s on board. Everybody’s gung-ho. That’s all very, very good. Tuesday’s meeting was a major event, not to be diminished.

But, and it’s a big “but,” this was just the start. The finish line is a long, rocky, laborious, excruciating distance away. Reality is never as short and sweet as euphoria.


Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com. McFeely’s blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com