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Heidi Shaffer, Published November 07 2010

With new faces in Washington, leaders begin to regroup on flood funding

Local leaders are regrouping after Tuesday’s defeat of two congressmen who were expected to play key roles in securing federal funding for the proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion.

The seats lost by Reps. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., and Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., along with the change of power in Congress means area officials are redoubling efforts to ensure support for the project.

“My concern is just the fact that the Congress is a whole new Congress,” said Tim Mahoney, who co-chairs the Metro Flood Study Work Group, which is a multijurisdictional committee of city, county and water board members. “The other setback is that they don’t want to spend any money.”

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, who endorsed Pomeroy for the House race, met with Pomeroy’s successful challenger, Republican Rick Berg, the morning after the election.

“(Berg’s) got a tremendous amount of investment in this community. I told him I would support him,” Walaker said.

Berg said the diversion is his top priority when he goes to Congress in January.

“The last thing that I wanted to do was make this flood thing partisan in any way,” he said. “I want to work together.”

Walaker said only time will tell what Pomeroy and Oberstar’s defeats will mean.

In August, Pomeroy, an 18-year member of the House, and Oberstar came to Fargo to explain the process the project will take once the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finishes its study, and to show their support for getting it through Congress.

Oberstar serves as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the group in charge of approving a water bill in which the diversion project would likely be included.

Mahoney, a Fargo city commissioner, said he is working to set up meetings with Berg and Gov. John Hoeven, who will take over Sen. Byron Dorgan’s vacated seat, to make sure they’re up to date on what local leaders are working toward.

Cass County Commissioner Scott Wagner said Hoeven “will hit the ground running on this issue,” and local leaders have returning Minnesota lawmakers, such as Rep. Collin Peterson and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, to continue their support for the project.

The passage Tuesday of a countywide half-cent sales tax to pay for a portion of the diversion also helps their case, he said.

“The fact that … our citizens have voted not once, but twice, to tax themselves, have raised and secured the local dollars necessary for a project like this, I think that speaks volumes,” Wagner said.

Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki contributed to this report.

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