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Published February 16 2012

Forum editorial: Diversion funding is on track

Opponents of the Red River diversion should not be quick to smile over what appears to be a shortfall for the project in President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget proposal. First, the $5 million (less than hoped-for $30 million) is the second-highest funded project among U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects. That’s a clear indication the diversion is a priority, not only for the corps but also for the president.

Second, the president’s budget is a proposal that, if it ever gets to Congress during this election year, will be mostly unrecognizable when the U.S. House and U.S. Senate get through with it. North Dakota and Minnesota congressional delegations will do their best to add more to the diversion appropriation.

Third, if $5 million is the number for the 2013 budget cycle, it will be enough to keep the project on the established timetable, corps officials said Monday. Coupled with local dollars and already allocated federal money, some $28 million will be available to continue design work.

The project’s value also was underscored by its inclusion in the president’s budget before Congress has authorized $1.78 billion flood control legislation. That’s a telling accomplishment, said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

What it all means at this point is that the diversion has cleared yet another hurdle on its way to full authorization, funding and construction. To date, the project has won all the necessary approvals the corps needs to proceed. It has solid support among local sponsoring governments and will secure state funding when the North Dakota Legislature meets next year.

Opponents will do what they deem necessary to protect their interests: homes, businesses, farms. Litigation might be on the horizon. That is their right. Project sponsors are prepared for that circumstance.

As the diversion evolves during the design phase and during at least a decade of construction, changes that can be made to minimize negative impacts will be made. But the goal – to provide permanent flood protection for a growing urban area of 100,000-plus people – must not be compromised.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.