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Published November 29 2011

Diversion officials acknowlege project will cause harm

CASSELTON, N.D. – Marking a sharp contrast from past community meetings in the region, Cass County township officials offered level-headed discussion here Tuesday night about the contentious Red River diversion project.

County and Diversion Authority leaders presented the latest information on the project to about 100 officials gathered for the fall meeting of the Cass County Township Officers’ Association.

Diversion Authority officials acknowledged the project’s impacts will harm many residents in the county in order to protect the majority of the population, but they also added that they want to address residents’ questions as the project progresses.

In the interim, though, residents shouldn’t be surprised by more changes to the proposed diversion as engineers finalize design details, said Jeff Volk of Moore Engineering, one of the lead technical consultants on the project.

“We’re too early in the process to think we’ve got the final plan,” he said, adding that feasibility work has allowed engineers to estimate aspects like cost or design, but numerous details have yet to be ironed out.

“I’ve worked most of my career doing flood-control projects, and one thing I learned a long time ago – and that some people can’t accept – is things will continue to change,” Volk cautioned.

The proposed $1.8 billion project is expected to receive final approval from the Army Corps of Engineers by mid-December; however, Congress must both authorize and fund the project before it could be built.

In the meantime, corps engineers and local consultants aim this winter to start shoring up the alignment of the diversion channel and other elements of the design.

Township officials asked fewer than a dozen questions during the one-hour discussion, inquiring about issues such as local taxation and access to major roadways.

The balancing act between upstream and downstream impacts also prompted questions from township leaders.

Some asked why a basinwide solution wasn’t pursued over a local diversion, since much of the Red River Valley suffers from perennial flooding.

“It’s impossible to come up with a plan to solve everybody’s problem,” Volk said. “The opportunity is here today to do this project for Fargo-Moorhead, and if we don’t do it, we may lose this opportunity.”

Previous community meetings on the project have drawn passionate and emotional debate, since many residents south of the proposed diversion will be negatively affected.

Diversion Authority members pledged to continue holding meetings with affected residents to address concerns.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541