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Dave Roepke, Published October 20 2010

Peterson touts retention as option for flood control

Touting $500 million for water retention projects he aims to secure, Rep. Collin Peterson said Tuesday that the patchwork of primarily rural projects could reduce the necessity for a Red River diversion around Fargo-Moorhead.

“I think it’s a possibility. I don’t know what percentage of a possibility,” Peterson said. “We may need a much smaller diversion.”

Peterson made the comments at a Moorhead campaign stop with state Sen. Keith Langseth and Mark Dayton, the DFL candidate for Minnesota governor.

The $500 million Peterson hopes to secure in the next farm bill, which is written by the House Agriculture Committee he chairs, would pay for low-interest loans to farmers to install tiling in fields, wetlands retention and other measures.

Due to the timing of the farm bill in relation to the diversion projects, it’s not clear how much the former could affect the latter.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects to have a final report on the diversion finished by November 2011. The farm bill would pass, at earliest, by the end of 2011, Peterson said. The bill could end up being pushed off to the middle of 2012, he said.

A local match of the $500 million would be required, but Langseth, who chairs the Minnesota legislative committee responsible for public works projects, said matching money would be available despite the state’s budget woes.

Langseth, who like Peterson is running for re-election, said an economic lull presents an ideal time to spend for infrastructure because it provides more work and interest rates are low.

“The time to bond and build is in down time,” he said.

Dayton said he would support flood control in the Red River Valley, if elected. “I recognize the importance of this project,” he said.

Peterson said the federal funding would allow drainage systems in fields and wetlands to be turned on or off as needed, making sure retention space is available during flood-prone times. The goal would be to create the capacity to store 1 million acre-feet of water.

He said the earliest that construction could begin in full is 2012, though there are wetlands projects ready to begin in 2011 using some funding that was included in the 2008 farm bill.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535