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Published February 19 2012

Diversion Discussion: Reader shares diversion’s impact on family heritage

FARGO - I received a letter last week detailing a compelling story from one of our readers that I simply had to share.

Fergus Falls, Minn., resident Diane Johnson and her family in the Hickson-Comstock area are among those who will be affected by the upstream consequences of the Red River diversion plan.

Many of the concerns Johnson described and the questions she raised have been discussed in previous columns, but facts and figures simply can’t express the heart and emotion evoked by a personal story.

So this week, I’m taking a different approach by letting a reader share her story in her own words.

Thank you, Diane, for your willingness to share.

Our journey from California to Minnesota last year began with a dream to retire back where my ancestors arrived after they made that long passage from Scandinavia to the northern plains of America.

As a little girl, I longed for the family who stayed along the Red River Valley of the North.

I wanted to tromp about the old farmstead with my cousins, explore the woods beside the river, visit the varied households of multiple relatives who had remained and supported a specific and traditional way of life.

It became a romantic and deeply provocative dream, a harkening to ancestral roots, a rite of passage through transmigration.

Therefore, it is with more than some irony that just as we have reached that point of return – just as the dream to redeem a much-coveted and lost path has been brought to fruition – we hear of a plan to divert the Red River and flood it all.

It seems a massive and exorbitant plan has been hatched by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – a proposal that would cost upward of $1.8 billion in order to protect the land and population that has spread outward from the greater Fargo-Moorhead communities.

It isn’t that I am quarreling with just any long-term, permanent flood relief for the Fargo-Moorhead metro area.

I see the need for a plan.

I sympathize with the victims.

But not at the expense of making my ancestral lands the sacrificial lamb.

Particularly when the staging, storage, and deliberately man-made flooding is proposed to be done in an area where long ago the pioneers wisely chose their land, carefully managed their acreage through hardship and hard work and have not been troubled by deluge all these years, neither by man nor God.

Fargo-Moorhead, however, has built into a long-standing swampland and continued, as urban sprawl ever and blithely demanded, to build into the floodplain and build some more.

And they’ve paid the consequences.

It’s only the “little guy” who wins my sympathy, and the current diversion plan isn’t the one he should choose and stand behind.

There have been other proposals that include widening, straightening or dredging the riverbed, or erecting permanent flood walls or a ring dike around the city.

Are those good or appropriate solutions? I am not an engineer, but I know that it cannot be a good solution to flood out and send to oblivion whole communities – Hickson, N.D., and Comstock, Minn., among them – century farms, homesteads, historic sites, 13 cemeteries, schools and churches that have long served our history and the rich and endowed past of third and fourth generations of noble immigrants.

One of my great-grandfathers, Jorgan Johannesen came from Norway in 1870 with just a cart, a cow and two oxen.

He lived in a dugout in the ground along the river, skied to Alexandria for supplies, built a house, raised a family and started a legacy, just as all the tough and tenacious pioneers of Pleasant Township in North Dakota.

My aunt Lil still lives in the family home in Hickson, and it is our hub and center.

Grandpa Johan Pederssen came here as a boy of eight, along with his brother and an uncle from an island called Skarvik near Tromso at the end of the fjord called Sjovegan.

He married my darling Grandma Marie and began a family before succumbing to the tuberculosis he contracted in the crowded hold of the ship.

Other great-grandparents, Jens and Kirsten Jonsson came from Varmland, Sweden, to join the extended family, occupying a little log cabin near Comstock.

The cabin still stands and the family farms that side of the river.

My relatives spanning four generations are buried in four local cemeteries. The Shepard of the Prairie Church in Hickson and the Comstock Lutheran Church are more than just buildings.

This is my personal tale and history.

I am just one of many with similar roots and lineage who find it difficult to believe there is not a more reasonable, not to mention affordable and perhaps scientifically satisfying, solution to the problem at hand.

The descendents of the pioneers will not give this plan an easy pass.


Join the “Diversion Discussion” at www.diversiondiscussion.areavoices.com.

Have a question about the proposed Red River diversion, or want to recommend a topic you’d like to see addressed in an upcoming column?

Send an email to Forum reporter Kristen Daum at kdaum@forumcomm.com (Subject: Diversion Discussion) or write to Kristen Daum c/o The Forum,

PO Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

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