Heidi Shaffer, Published May 25 2011
Diversion faces several steps before approvalFARGO – A Red River diversion project still faces a number of reviews and stamps of approval to get the project in front of Congress.
Construction won’t start for at least another two years and completion is likely another decade away – and that’s a best-case scenario based on whether Congress approves and funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project next year.
The wait creates added uncertainty for homeowners living south of Fargo, who may decide to move if an approved diversion creates a water holding area in their neighborhoods.
The corps is holding a series of local public meetings this week to take comments on a more than two-year study of the project.
The comments, accepted through June 20, will be incorporated into the corps’ final report, which will undergo another round of hearings, reviews and comments from top corps commanders, a Civil Works Review Board, and state and agency representatives, said Craig Evans, a corps project manager.
The next step is a final “chief’s report” that is the recommendation to Congress.
Evans said he doesn’t expect any delays in getting that final report signed by December. Last summer, the corps was starting the same process and had to redesign aspects of the plan because increased water projections north of Fargo extended all the way to Canada and beyond.
Once the recommendation is made to Congress, the waiting game begins.
The assistant secretary of the Army and the Office of Budget and Management determine whether the administration will support the project.
“There’s no way of telling when either the administration or Congress would make a determination on it because we’ve had projects sit at Office of Management and Budget for years,” he said.
Design of the diversion is scheduled to start Aug. 1, but construction – and buyouts – can’t move forward until Congress gives it the OK.
Communities and local governments south of Fargo have talked about halting progress, but at this point politics might be the only way for opponents to stop the project, Evans said.
“We’ve done the best we can to follow the process that’s prescribed, and normally that’s what we get sued over,” he said “Unless we’ve made a big technical mistake somewhere, it’d be very difficult to stop except at the political side.”
The diversion wouldn’t have much traction in Congress if local delegates don’t support it, he said.
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker told residents Monday at a diversion meeting that the recent loss of congressional seniority with Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad’s exit is personally concerning.
“Does it hurt? Absolutely,” Walaker said. “Our federal government works on seniority, and we lost a lot of seniority.”
But Fargo Commissioner Tim Mahoney said recent natural disasters, such as tornadoes and flooding elsewhere, could mean heightened awareness and support for a diversion project.
“We think we’re in a good position,” he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511