Heidi Shaffer, Published September 16 2010
Corps to curtail pace of diversion
The corps announced last month that the feasibility study period may be extended in order to take a closer look at higher river levels downstream of the diversion.
Wednesday’s announcement means the study will likely be delayed almost a year, which will shift construction and key funding approval for the project.
The corps was working to get its final report ready for Congressional approval by December. Now, the final chief’s report will likely wrap up in November 2011, said Craig Evans, the project’s co-manager.
“We said right from the start that this was a very aggressive schedule,” Evans said.
The corps generally takes three to five years for projects, often smaller in size, but was asked to get the Fargo-Moorhead study done in two years.
Evans said the delay gives the corps time to fully define the downstream impacts and present those findings to the public, something Red River communities north of the metro pushed this summer during the public comment period on the environmental impact study.
Diane Ista, a manager for the Wild Rice Watershed District who helped organize downstream communities, said Wednesday’s announcement shows the corps was listening to their concerns.
“It’s an uplifting feeling for all of us that they are at least going to take a look at (downstream impacts),” she said.
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said the extent of the impacts, which in some areas reached 25 inches above flood levels without the diversion and extend beyond Drayton, N.D., came as a surprise.
“I don’t think anyone envisioned having impacts that far north,” Walaker said.
Local leaders were pushing to continue on a quick timeline but said they would support the corps’ decision, Walaker said.
“We all made comments previously that it’s not something we want to hear, but at the same time we want to see a good project,” said Cass County Commissioner Darrell Vanyo.
The corps is looking at changing features of the diversion to alleviate the impacts, including additional retention upstream and during a peak event.
After the corps finishes studying downstream impacts and retention options, it will release a second environmental impact study, likely in the spring of 2011, Evans said.
The Metro Flood Study Work Group will continue to move forward on the phases not affected by the schedule change, said Kevin Campbell, the group’s co-chairman.
Cass County will go forward with a half-cent sales tax vote on November’s ballot, Commissioner Vanyo said.
Local leaders had worried missing the December deadline would jeopardize securing federal funding for the $1.5 billion diversion because of North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan’s decision to not seek re-election.
But Dorgan said Monday he doesn’t think the timeline shift will complicate securing federal funding.
“I’m disappointed by the delay, but the delay does not mean this project is not going to be done,” he said.
The corps’ regular practice is to include its projects in a Congressional Water Resource Redevelopment Act bill.
The 2010 WRDA bill is under consideration in the House, and depending on when the Senate weighs in on the bill, it could get pushed to 2011.
In a visit last month, Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., a key congressman in getting such projects passed, said regardless of whether the F-M diversion makes it into the WRDA bill, it could stand on its own for federal approval.
In the meantime, the corps will continue to reassess the diversion’s schedule to determine milestones for the project, Evans said, adding the project is still on an aggressive timeline.
“We’re working very hard to get this done as quickly as we can,” Evans said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511