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Cash Aaland, Published March 27 2012

Fargo’s diversion immoral

I was somewhat unfair to The Forum in my last commentary. The opponents of Fargo’s plan to build dams on area rivers owe a debt to The Forum. But for the Opinion page, our opposition would be little known. Our arguments against the construction of these dams are not so much about the destruction of historic family farms – though the typical Forum reader would think so, as folksy “human interest” articles are the only non-opinion press we seem to get. The heart of the matter is that the diversion could be built without dams on the Wild Rice and Red rivers and without the destruction of the communities to the south.

The engineering on the issue shows that building several upstream retention sites to temporarily detain water on the rivers south of the F-M area could reduce the peak flow of floodwaters through Fargo by as much as 1.7 feet. Reducing the size of the diversion area would also have a significant impact.

The current plan calls for the construction of the dams and the diversion channel four miles farther south than what was initially proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Fargo decided the diversion should start four miles farther south, and the diversion area should be that much bigger. Fargo’s decision to build the dams four miles farther south had nothing to do with engineering, or greater protection; it had, according to the corps, everything to do with Fargo’s plans for future development.

The need for staging, i.e., dams, would be further reduced by flowing more water through Fargo, and adopting a reasonable level of protection. Fargo has claimed from the start of this debate that it needs – and the current plan will provide – 500-year protection. This whole multibillion-dollar project has been sold as a 500-year safety net. This is unreasonable for an area that has not, in recorded history, even seen a 100-year flood event. The actual level of protection provided by the proposed dams and diversion appears to be debatable, as the corps now claims that the current plan only provides 100-year protection, a contradiction that is a discussion for another day.

In summary, the opponents have proposed eliminating the dams by 1) building upstream retention; 2) moving the inlet back to the site originally proposed by the engineers; 3) flowing a greater amount of water through Fargo; and 4) seeking a reasonable level of protection.

At the meeting in Wahpeton, Richland and Wilkin counties were told “no.” The Army Corps and Fargo are not interested in looking into these proposals. Despite statements by Fargo’s leaders and Col. Michael Price, former Army Corps commander of the project, there are no studies, no investigation and no plans to look into anything other than to build these dams, drain the natural floodplain and “stage” it onto our communities. Exploring alternatives that might eliminate the need to destroy our communities is not something Fargo leaders will consider or investigate. We were told there will be no compromise.

Permanent flood protection could be built if Fargo acted reasonably to protect Fargo and not the interests of a future Fargo. The current plan is unreasonable, immoral and will ultimately be found to be unlawful. So long as Fargo seeks to protect its own future interests and future growth without regard for, and at the expense of, the rights and property of its neighbors, this plan will fail. Fargo’s current leaders will be remembered not for having brought permanent flood protection to Fargo but for their arrogance and unreasonableness – for having failed at a staggering cost.

Aaland is a Fargo attorney who lives near Christine, N.D.