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Heidi Shaffer, Published August 27 2010

Diversion expected to continue on current timeline

The proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion is expected to continue on its current timeline – at least for now.

But if the schedule does get delayed, a key congressman in getting such projects approved assured local leaders Thursday that the project wouldn’t be derailed.

Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told a panel of local and state officials in Fargo that a project of this size and scale could get congressional approval on its own if it misses a deadline for inclusion in a Water Resource Development Act bill.

That was good news for some who worried that pushing back the timeline to finish studying the diversion could put the project years behind schedule.

“That’s relieving because we were always worried if we missed the water bill, then we were out,” Fargo City Commissioner Tim Mahoney, who also co-chairs the Metro Flood Study Work Group, said after the meeting.

“There’s not a magic day on the calendar where if we slide past that day this project is doomed for some number of years until another magic day comes around,” said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D.

Oberstar stressed that he wants a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chief’s report that is “bullet proof,” and Col. Michael Price, St. Paul district commander, promised to deliever such a document.

Price said the corps is on schedule to have its draft feasibility report ready for the House Public Works Committee to review on Oct. 13, and he expects to have the chief’s report by the end of the year, as previously planned.

“We’re making good progress,” said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. “There’s bumps in the road, but we expected that. It’s actually going better than I thought it would.”

The corps announced last week that it is considering slowing down the project’s schedule in order to examine written opposition and technical information.

Local officials were told in a closed-door conference call last week that the corps would announce whether the timeline would be kept at Thursday’s meeting.

Aaron Snyder, the corps’ co-manager on the project, said they are still evaluating public comments and techinical data.

“I think we’re really in the same position we were in last week,” Snyder said Thursday. “There are some issues we need to work on and address, and then we’ll make a determination on the proper path forward.”

The corps received 370 comments during a public input period that ended Aug. 9. Many of the concerns address the diversion’s environmental and downstream impacts.

Mahoney said the Metro Flood Study Work Group will form a task force to address some of those concerns.

“We’re going to go downstream and try to smoke the peace pipe with those communities,” he said.

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