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Published August 22 2010

Diversion comments skew negative

When it comes to taking public comment on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects, Craig Evans is used to hearing a louder voice from the “no” camp.

“That’s the nature of this process,” said Evans, project co-manager for the proposed Red River diversion. “If you’re for something, you don’t take the time to comment on it. That’s pretty much what we expect – to hear from the people that are upset.”

The opposition didn’t disappoint when weighing in on the diversion.

Of the more than 370 individuals and groups that com­mented, The Forum count­ed less than a dozen in support of the diversion. Even among those, several suggested further study or ways to improve the $1.5 billion channel designed to keep Fargo-Moorhead dry.

The majority of comments against the diversion came from National Wildlife Federation members. In fact, 221 comments were identical copies of a form letter produced by the federation, and another 19 were slightly altered versions of that letter.

Regional Executive Director Thomas France said the federation sent an action alert to its members in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

“We were very pleased with the response,” he said. “People are clearly concerned about this.”

Aaron Snyder, the project’s other co-manager, said early last week that the corps would review comments and technical information to decide whether to keep the current schedule. After a conference call with corps officials on Thursday, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said it’s a “good possibility” the corps will delay the diversion’s timeline.

The corps will announce its decision Thursday to the Metro Flood Study Work Group in Fargo.

Walaker said last week if there is a delay, the group could urge supporters to write letters to counter the dissenting comments.

But Evans said the public input process “isn’t a popularity contest.” He said it’s the content of the comments – not the volume – that will carry weight.

“What we’re after is the technical merit of the concern, and is it something that we really need to address – is it something we’ve overlooked in our analysis,” he said.

France said the wildlife federation believes the corps’ feasibility report and draft environmental impact statement was too narrow in scope and failed to consider “greener” options for reducing flood risk in the Red River basin, including wetland restoration and the waffle concept of holding water on fields.

“It strikes us that the corps has proposed an option that is divisive and polarizing,” he said.

Those who commented in support of the diversion included the Red River Basin Commission and the Fargo Moorhead Chamber of Commerce. Both said they support mitigating downstream impacts.

Likewise, Tom Linnertz of Harwood, N.D., commented that he’ll benefit from the diversion and supports it, but only if proper compensation and protection is provided for those outside of the channel.

“Passing the problem to those downstream is not a solution,” he wrote.

Several diversion opponents shared personal stories about how the diversion will disrupt their land and way of life.

“I have not had one good night sleep since learning of this plan which means my family hasn’t either,” Stuart Johnson, who didn’t list his address, stated in an e-mailed comment. “We learned it will sacrifice almost everything that our family and four generations have worked for.”

Viewing the comments

Comments submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to its draft feasibility report and environmental impact statement for the proposed diversion can be found on the International Water Institute’s website at www.internationalwaterinstitute.org/feasibility

The comments are grouped into two categories: government and agency comments (199 pages) and public and non-governmental agency comments (177 pages).

The report also is available on the website.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528