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Published August 27 2010

Forum editorial: Diversion access no surprise

The decision by a Fargo district judge to give access to land potentially in the route of the proposed Fargo-Moorhead flood control diversion was no surprise. The five landowners (representing eight parcels) were without a sound legal argument, and most of them knew it. They proceeded, as one of them said, because they did not want to be seen as willingly giving access; they wanted to be forced to allow entry by the Cass County joint water board.

They got their wish but little else. The water board will get its permit, and engineers will test for soil stability, wetland impact, cultural artifacts and hazardous materials. It appears everyone in this mini-tiff wins: Landowners made their point, and the water board has a permit.

Nonetheless, the irony in the landowners’ stance is worth noting. One of the arguments against the diversion they’ve made is that the project is proceeding too quickly and sufficient data about impacts have not been gathered. But the purpose of access to the land by engineers and scientists is to gather such information in order to make sound conclusions about the proposed path of the channel. So why block access?

Of course, their objections have nothing to do with gathering information in order for the project to proceed. Most of the objecting landowners have been refreshingly honest. They don’t want the project because it might divide their farms, or destroy thousands of acres of good farmland, or it will disrupt a treasured way of life.

And make no mistake about it: A project of such magnitude will have devastating consequences for many farmers and other landowners in its path. No one should minimize that fact. For some landowners, no amount of money to take the land is enough to replace home, farm and lifestyle. It really is not possible to replace the heritage and history of a home and farmland that’s been in the family for generations. As the project proceeds – which it must – no one should discount the human cost.

But there’s another reality that cannot be discounted or dismissed. The Fargo metro area and its immediate environs are the only major urban areas along the Red River that are not protected from a big flood. Indeed, it’s the largest urban center still at risk from the fickle Red. A North Dakota-side diversion and associated mitigation and retention projects comprise the long-term solution. Everyone who’s objectively studied the situation understands that. Now is the time to get it done.

Judge Steven Marquart’s order was narrowly focused on access. He did not consider merits of the project itself. Still, his ruling was a small step in the right direction.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.