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Helmut Schmidt, Published June 02 2010

City of Fargo approves aid to gain access to diversion route land

The Fargo City Commission voted 5-0 Tuesday to have the Cass County Joint Water Resource District use its power if needed to gain access to critical parcels of land on the proposed route of a North Dakota diversion channel for soil and other testing.

Six North Dakota landowners refuse to let the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers do soil testing, and wetlands and archaeological surveys, Assistant City Attorney Butch McConn and corps project co-manager Aaron Snyder said.

The joint powers agreement would also involve Cass County, which votes on the issue Monday. Fargo and Cass would split any costs, the agreement says.

The surveys are part of about $1.5 million in studies needed to flesh out the corps’ report for Congress on diversion plans.

Water board Chairman Tom Fischer said his group has the authority to get access to the land but, just as importantly, are closer to the people who own it.

“We know the people better,” Fischer said. Whereas, some of the residents “see the city as an enemy,” he said.

Snyder said that in addition to the six parcels with no access, another 15 landowners granted access, one said they would allow access and there was no response from nine.

Of 120 landowners the corps is working with in North Dakota overall, 69 granted access, one said they will grant access, nine denied access and 41 have not responded.

In Minnesota, 16 owners of critical parcels granted access, two said they would grant access and 12 have not responded. There have been no denials.

Overall, 116 Minnesota landowners granted access, two said they will grant access, two denied access and 48 haven’t responded.

The water board approved the pact Friday.

McConn said the costs of the water board’s services could vary widely, depending on whether a few phone calls, letters or meetings could clear up the issue, or if legal steps were needed.

The local choice for a diversion is a $1.46 billion 35,000-cubic-feet-per-second North Dakota diversion.

The plan the corps has pegged as being in the nation’s best interest is a $1.37 billion 40,000-cfs diversion in Minnesota.

In other business, the commission voted to move its third meeting of June to the 29th, a Tuesday.

Mayor Dennis Walaker and Commissioner Tim Mahoney will be in Washington, D.C., on June 28, with several other metro leaders to meet with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., on diversion issues.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583