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Matt Von Pinnon, Published March 21 2010

Von Pinnon: Is it fair for everyone to pay for diversion?

Last Thursday, right after the Metro Flood Study Work Group voted unanimously to back a North Dakota flood diversion, the crowd observing the meeting broke out in applause.

After a year of tough talk and political jockeying by local government officials, a sense of unity and purpose prevailed.

It didn’t hurt, of course, that the region’s people were in the midst of again rolling up their sleeves to fight a second major flood in as many years. If there was ever political impetus to get something done about long-term flood protection, last week was it.

Right now, people in the valley are feeling pretty good. It appears we’ve conquered another flood and are on our way toward securing long-term flood protection.

But, at the risk of sounding like Debbie Downer, don’t break out the cigars just yet.

The turf battles over who will pay for long-term protection are already surfacing. Especially suspicious of the funding formulas are those who feel they’re not threatened by flooding but suspect they’ll be forced to help pay for a solution to it.

West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern says he and his fellow commissioners can’t go anywhere these days without their constituents wanting to talk about this.

Largely protected by the Sheyenne Diversion, many West Fargoans who paid for it and continue to pay for its maintenance don’t feel they should have to pay additionally to keep Fargo-Moorhead and other surrounding cities dry.

Mattern says he’s been telling everyone it’s just the start of a long process about who will pay what and that he believes “level heads will prevail.”

Because many West Fargoans work in Fargo-Moorhead, they, too, have a vested interest in making sure the larger metro area doesn’t flood, Mattern said, adding West Fargo stands to gain even more developable and taxable property if the North Dakota diversion is built as proposed.

“We want to do our part,” Mattern said. “I don’t want to get into an argument yet.”

He’s being diplomatic.

Callers to talk radio and commenters on The Forum’s Web site Friday were already standing their ground.

“If WF residents have to pay a single DIME for others’ problems, the riots in Greece will look like a summer picnic,” wrote one of many like-minded online commenters.

Their remarks were largely prompted by a diversion payment proposal forwarded at last Thursday’s meeting and detailed in The Forum on Friday.

It suggested $205 million of the $1.3 billion North Dakota diversion be paid for with special assessments on properties within the diversion. Spread over 25 years, the annual average assessment would be $203 on a home and $1,092 on commercial properties.

The key word there is average. Presumably, those who gain more benefit from the diversion will pay more; those who gain less will pay less.

To those most threatened by flooding today, a hefty special assessment to help pay for a diversion may still be cheaper than buying annual flood insurance.

But for those who today feel protected from a flood, a special assessment seems inherently unfair.

Who will pay what for long-term flood control is a long way from being decided, but one thing’s for sure: Those decisions aren’t likely to end in applause.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.