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Heidi Shaffer, Published December 10 2010

Upstream interests get seat at table for diversion meetings

Communities upstream of the proposed Red River diversion didn’t get many answers Thursday, but they did receive a seat at the decision-making table.

More than 200 people attended a meeting with the Metro Flood Study Work Group to discuss the latest U.S. Army Corps of Engineers information on a diversion option that would raise flood levels for communities immediately south of the channel.

Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof reaffirmed that his already flood-prone town located about three miles south of Fargo can’t handle any more water.

“We don’t care what the impact is,” Nyhoff said. “We’ll fight our own flood, but we aren’t going to fight a flood that isn’t ours.”

Now, Nyhof will have a voice in the project going forward.

Tim Mahoney, a Fargo city commissioner and co-chairman of the flood work group, invited upstream leaders to join the group’s future conversations.

“We’re all in this together,” Mahoney said. “We all have to make this work.”

The flood group, made up of leaders from both sides of the Red River, meets monthly with the corps and local engineers to receive diversion updates.

Oxbow, Hickson and the Bakke subdivision, all located a few miles south of where the diversion would begin carrying water out of the Red River – will likely see additional water during a large flood event.

How much extra flooding, however, remains undetermined.

The corps announced the new plan last month, but details on how much additional water and how far the impacts extend are likely still months away, said Aaron Snyder, a corps project manager.

Right now, the corps predicts levels immediately south of the channel could be anywhere from 2 to 7 feet higher than without the diversion, but engineers are still trying to determine exact numbers before the study’s draft is released for public comment in late April, Snyder said.

The impacts would be greatest just south of the channel and decrease by about a foot for every mile away for the diversion, he said.

Another corps alternative had instead raised river levels downstream of the channel, where impacts extended north of the Canadian border.

To eliminate those far-reaching impacts, the corps began looking at an alternative that would instead hold water in a more concentrated area upstream.

The new proposal would use storage cells that would take on water during large floods or upstream staging, which essentially holds water south of the diversion during extreme high water.

Resident Jeff Pflugrath lives about a mile north of the diversion path and came to get answers about what the new plan means for his home.

“I guess it’s just a wait-and-see,” he said.

The cost of the diversion is estimated at about $1.5 billion and will take at least 10 years to construct once the project gets congressional approval.

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