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Kristen M. Daum and Heidi Shaffer, Published November 21 2010

Cities weigh growth against diversion protection

The reality of what a North Dakota-side diversion will mean for future growth has settled in for some local leaders, but an eastern alignment favored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers muddied the water for other communities last week.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said it was clear to him for some time that the corps was leaning toward the eastern path. But West Fargo and Cass County officials were anticipating that a channel about two miles to the west was more than likely.

West Fargo officials say they’re “not ready to give up” on persuading the corps to move the proposed diversion to the west – a change that would allow for more development for North Dakota’s fastest-growing and fifth-largest city.

“I’m just not going to roll over and play dead on this one,” West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said. “I think that we have to explore all avenues.”

Mattern said he intends to talk with other local leaders to see what the next step might be.

Cass County Commissioner Darrell Vanyo said he also plans to fight what seems to be a somewhat firm position from the corps.

Vanyo said Cass prefers the western route because it’s a straighter path through the county and that it makes more sense to accommodate what the local entities want.

Corps Project Manager Aaron Snyder said growth and development are not good enough reasons to adjust the path of the project.

He said local leaders would need to present a “good, technical reason” as to why the diversion should be farther west.

But Mattern said the development potential brought with that extra land should be a factor in the alignment.

“If you follow their logic, we probably wouldn’t have a diversion in West Fargo if we started today,” he said. “That seems so flawed to me.”

West Fargo Commissioner Mike Thorstad said providing flood protection inherently opens land for new development.

“The big project is providing flood protection for a wide area, which allows not only Fargo to avoid flood issues but allows them to continue to grow over the years,” he said. “West Fargo should have that same opportunity.”

Fargo had about 50 years of growth in the original diversion study, Walaker said.

New plans that propose a significant amount of storage inside the diversion footprint in south Fargo probably cut the possibility for future expansion to about 25 years, he said.

Stunted growth is a reality of the diversion project, Walaker said.

“Protection is more important,” he said. “The reality is what it is.”

Fargo Commissioner Mike Williams has long talked about the city’s need to focus on “smart growth” rather than simply expanding.

The area within the diversion is sufficient space to handle Fargo’s goals for growth, if done efficiently, Williams said.

When Fargo has expanded into areas that naturally flood, the water was displaced, making flooding issues worse, Williams said.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” he said.

The diversion will take at least 10 years to complete. In that time, the city needs to focus on growth strategies and development tools, Williams said.

For their part, Horace officials are concerned about the potential for water storage taking up developable land south of the city.

Horace Mayor Shane Waloch was still looking over the details of the corps’

revised diversion plan on Friday but called the news “a little unexpected.”

“Who wants a bunch of storage ponds inside city limits and inside their growth area?” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporters Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541 and Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511