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Heidi Shaffer, Published January 03 2011

Area leaders set state priorities

When the 2011 legislative session convenes on Tuesday, North Dakota lawmakers will begin the task of rifling through funding requests from local governments.

Fargo and Cass County leaders have met with local legislators over the past month to set priorities for the session, and water issues rank high on the wish list, said Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral.

Flood control

The city and county will both be lobbying for a state share of the proposed $1.5 billion Fargo-Moorhead diversion.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s budget sets aside $30 million over the next two years for a total of $75 million in initial funding for the diversion. The amount matches what Fargo and Cass leaders were seeking.

Dalrymple also reaffirmed former Gov. John Hoeven’s promise of $300 million over the next 10 years, which makes up about half of the North Dakota-side share of expenses for the project.

Cass County Commissioner Darrell Vanyo told lawmakers last month that the diversion is important to the metro’s growth and prosperity.

“The economic engine we have here is just as important … as oil production is in the west,” he said.

Water treatment

Fargo hopes the state will help upgrade the city’s water treatment plant to deal with higher sulfate levels in the Sheyenne River caused by releases from a proposed Devils Lake outlet.

The outlet will flow into the Sheyenne River, where the city gets about 40 percent of its water, Zavoral said. The city’s water treatment facility is not equipped to remove sulfates.

Fargo is seeking $30 million over the next two bienniums to cover upgrade costs. Dalrymple included the first $15 million installment in his proposed budget earlier this month, Zavoral said.

Water supply

Flooding has dominated local priorities for the past few years, but Fargo is also preparing for dry times.

“While we’ve got lots of flooding issues, there’s a potential for drought,” Zavoral said.

The city wants state help in developing a Red River water supply project that would bring water from the Missouri River in times of drought.

Law enforcement

City and county officials are watching to see what legislators decide on a ban on texting while driving being proposed by Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck.

Previous attempts for distracted driving or texting bans in 2007 and 2009 by Klemin were defeated.

This year, Grand Forks and Bismarck both passed city ordinances that prohibit texting behind the wheel. Police Chief Keith Ternes said a similar ordinance is not far behind in Fargo if legislators fail to pass a statewide ban.

Ternes said he also supports a graduated driver’s license system for juveniles and a primary seat-belt law, both of which are issues the department has monitored for a number of sessions, he said.

But Ternes said he will not pursue a change in the state’s traffic fines, as Fargo did in 2007 and 2009.

In 2007, Fargo was sued in a class-action lawsuit for traffic fines that exceeded limits set by state law.

Ternes said he would support another agency if they attempted to seek the change, but “having Fargo or the Fargo Police Department go out to the Legislature for a third session in a row, I don’t think it’s going to be worthwhile.”

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