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Karl Langseth, Published July 21 2010

History of big public project is not fulfilling the promises

The recent Forum editorial lambasting diversion protesters takes a fairly narrow point of view about their concerns. It is very easy in the push to get this thing approved to provide lip service as to what could be done to address impacts, but with no one stepping up to put in writing what will be done, it makes their arguments a solid one.

The history of public projects not fulfilling their promises of what could happen after their completion is not very good. If the tables were turned and some mammoth project was planned that would dump 2 feet of extra water on Fargo, do you think that the city would not protest if its concerns were not addressed in writing?

From the day the Metro Flood Control group announced that the North Dakota diversion was the preferred plan, officials have carefully backed away from taking responsibilities. At that meeting, one member wanted to include a statement that downstream effects would be taken care of.

It was discussed and decided that “We don’t want to write checks we can’t cover”; the statement was amended and approved as “We are concerned about downstream impacts.” You can be concerned, but if you are unwilling to take responsibility for your actions, it doesn’t mean much.

Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers have stated that if there is water somewhere already, adding more is not harming anyone; water was already there. They are currently doing another study on that to determine just how much more water it takes to officially do harm. That is hardly a reassuring statement.

If you really believe that Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., can put together and implement a plan for a huge water-retention system upstream that will lower crests before this diversion would become operational, why would we spend over a billion dollars on it? It won’t be needed.

Even a well-thought-out and well-planned construction project has difficulty staying on budget. The diversion is neither of those. As of yet, organizers can’t even tell you the route past West Fargo. There are two major projects within the diversion – the crossings of the Maple and Sheyenne rivers – that are nothing but engineering concepts right now.

These planned crossings have never been done in North America. The engineers have said they don’t know how they are going to do them, but somehow they have established a cost for them to be included in the budget. How do you do that?

The preliminary corps drilling found unstable soil in our area. Shouldn’t our local engineers have been aware of these habitual problems in the Red River Valley? The unstable soils prompted them to reduce the depth of the ditch by 3 feet. With the 3-foot reduction in depth, it makes the claim by the water board that westside drainage will not be negatively affected because the ditch will never be full, even more suspect than it was previously.

We cannot have another project that has the negative effects to the west of it like the Sheyenne Diversion does. That’s been 17 years, and issues haven’t been addressed.

Maintenance funds required for the diversion will be enormous. Where is the plan for where those dollars will come from? Landowners will be forced to give up their land and be paid by the acre to protect land that will be sold by the foot. Is God making more land? Where will farmers find 6,500 acres that can be bought to replace what they gave up?

Public funding could be greatly affected with 6,500 acres permanently off the tax rolls. Where is it spelled out that the project sponsors will be liable for picking up the tab on those dollars? Cass County, the townships, the schools – none of these entities can give that kind of eternal gift to Fargo.

With the amount of money involved in this, organizers cannot say “We’ll figure things out as we go.” How much do you feel that everyone outside of the diversion should give up so that Fargo can continue with poor planning that promotes and allows its growth into lower and more flood-prone areas?