Dave Roepke, Published August 10 2010
Landowners object to flood diversion’s handlingFive Cass County families told a judge Monday they’re refusing to let engineers studying the Red River diversion onto their land due to concerns about the $1.5 billion project.
“This is disrupting 6,000 acres or more of productive farmland,” said Gene Rust, one of the landowners. “I feel like the thing has a lot of risk involved.”
The 36-mile flood channel to run through North Dakota is in the final stages of study after local officials backed the project as their preferred option. The Joint Water Resource District in Cass County – acting on behalf of the city of Fargo – filed a civil action in Cass County District Court to seek permits forcing the landowners to grant access.
Objections posed by the landowners in a hearing on the permits focused mostly on diversion issues, though Judge Steven Marquart repeatedly said he wouldn’t be weighing in on the merits of the project.
“I can’t say this enough, but I’m not deciding this,” Marquart said.
Kevin Heiden, another of the landowners, said while the project isn’t finalized, a project manager from the Army Corps of Engineers told him the path the ditch would take is unlikely to dramatically change.
Marquart didn’t make an immediate ruling. He said he’ll issue a written order, but he didn’t say when.
Engineers need access to more than 800 acres of land at crucial river crossings to finish cultural, geological and environmental aspects of the diversion study. The plan is to have a final study ready in October, in hopes of meeting the deadline to get federal funding by the end of the year.
Multiple landowners said they thought the diversion project was moving too fast to consider its impact and that other options weren’t fully considered.
“I’m not against the project, but there’s other ways to do this,” Charles Richards said.
Heiden said he’s against taking out farmland for the sake of cities, arguing the chief purpose of the diversion is urban growth.
“This project is as much for development as it is for flood control,” he said.
Robert Hoy, the attorney for the water district, said owners will be paid for any crop damages and $250 for every hole drilled to study soil suitability. Crews will also refill the holes.
Hoy also said the water district would be willing to notify owners when they entered their land.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535