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Heidi Shaffer, Published July 28 2010

Landowners unite against flood diversion

A group of North Dakota landowners against a proposed Red River diversion is rallying to have their voices heard.

The Landowners Association of North Dakota hosted an open forum Tuesday for about 100 property owners and community members to discuss concerns they feel are not being addressed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Metro Flood Work Group.

Worries about downstream impacts of the 36-mile channel topped a long list of apprehensions many in the group expressed.

Hendrum, Minn., Mayor Curt Johannsen helped form a work group to study the downstream impacts and said Tuesday’s meeting served as a uniting force for groups of farmers, water boards and concerned landowners.

Johannsen said many in the group distrust whether the Metro Flood Study Group will keep promises made to help mitigate an increase in river levels. And he was disappointed no one from the diversion’s decision-making body attended the landowners’ meeting.

“To me, that’s just a slap in the face,” Johannsen said.

But Darrell Vanyo, Cass County commissioner and Metro Flood Group member, said Tuesday evening that he didn’t know about the meeting.

The gathering was largely publicized through word of mouth, said panel member and landowner David Gust, who also discussed the forum Tuesday morning on a Fargo radio program.

Vanyo said he recognizes that many feel they are not being heard, but the Flood Study Group is committed to downstream mitigation.

“The diversion is not going to get built without consideration being given to downstream and/or upstream measures,” he said by phone Tuesday night. “I know that they fear that no one is listening. We hear it loud a clear.”

Gust invited two Manitoba residents to sit on the panel to share their experience with organizers of a similar diversion in Winnipeg.

“Don’t listen to promises. Get it in writing,” said Jack Jonasson, who spoke of unmitigated flooding and difficult rural road access caused by that diversion.

Landowners are working to get comments and concerns to the corps before it wraps up the project’s draft feasibility study’s public comment period on Aug. 9. The corps held a number of public meetings earlier this spring at the start of that process.

The corps is still in the process of studying downstream river levels, which in some areas could reach 17 inches higher than without the almost $1.5 billion diversion, and Johannsen said the timeline doesn’t give impacted communities enough time to respond.

The Aug. 9 date is one date on a tight timeline the corps has followed to keep the project moving forward, and that rush has some landowners feeling they’re “ramming this thing through,” Gust said.

“You know what a rushed project is. It’s a poor product,” said panelist Diane Ista of the Wild Rice Watershed District.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511