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Jack Zaleski, Published August 01 2010

Zaleski: Diversion foes should keep it honest

If downstream opponents of the Fargo-Moorhead diversion continue to say stupid things in print and on television, they will lose what tenuous credibility they have. If they grasp for an alliance with the North Dakota Landowners Association, which has its own fringe agenda, they will sacrifice their legitimacy. They risk undermining practical remedies for minimizing downstream impacts.

The “facts” some opponents are using are easily refuted. The anti-Fargo-Moorhead tone of the ranting seems to be aimed at torpedoing sincere efforts to develop a comprehensive flood control plan that embraces water retention. For example:

The potential water level in downstream areas seems to rise every time foes speak to the media. First the diversion would dump an additional 4 inches; then it was 11; then 17; then 20. It gets more nonsensical every time they open their mouths. Such hyperbolic exaggeration erodes the downstream argument.

They know – but choose to ignore – that the Army Corps of Engineers will not fund a project that would do damage. They also know – but choose to dismiss – that Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is working to secure through USDA up to $500 million over 10 years for water retention features that will be in place before the diversion is operational. They also know – but choose to disbelieve – that Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who is the key senator for securing federal funding for the diversion, said as recently as last week that the project must include water retention and downstream protection.

Can it be any clearer? Are they all lying? If diversion opponents believe they are, they should quit pussyfooting and call the congressman, the senator and corps spokesmen liars. And then be prepared to defend the charge.

And this: A diversion foe on TV news last week posed the allegedly rhetorical question: What if all that water was coming down on Fargo? How would they react? – followed by a smarmy smirk. Well, duh!

The water has been coming down on Fargo-Moorhead for years. The cities have been fighting record and near-record floods with increasing frequency. The flood of 2009 was a record; this spring’s flood ranked No. 6 in the top 10. It’s early, but conditions seem to be shaping up for another big one in 2011.

What if the water was coming down on Fargo? What a stupid question. Where have these people been the past few years?

Downstream worry about more water is real. Landowners in the path of the project oppose it because they don’t want to lose land to the channel. But their opposition would be more convincing if they quit twisting information in order to exaggerate fears. They should be forthright and honest. They should say they just don’t want the damn thing, and to hell with the 175,000 people in the Fargo-Moorhead metro. After all, that’s what they really mean.

Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski can be reached at (701) 241-5521.