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Published April 12 2012

Diversion officials to study additional ways to limit rural impact

FARGO – With the Red River diversion officially approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, local project consultants are now delving into ways to lessen its impact on rural areas.

But leaders of those upstream communities felt little hope Thursday that the additional studies could change the outcome of the $1.8 billion project.

Chief consultants for the Diversion Authority unveiled their plans for several new studies at Thursday’s authority meeting.

The proposals were met with encouragement from Fargo-Moorhead leaders, who’ve sought ways to ease tensions with communities that would be affected by the diversion.

“We certainly want to stay on task, stay on target, but I think it’s good to see this – that there will be some analysis done,” Co-Chairman Darrell Vanyo said.

But Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof had a more somber reaction to news of the additional studies, which seek to benefit towns, like his, that could be wiped out by the upstream storage component of the project.

Some of the studies the Diversion Authority will now undertake have already been rejected by corps engineers as unfeasible or unrealistic options, such as allowing Oxbow to remain as-is under the protection of a ring dike.

“I don’t know if it’s going to make me feel warm and fuzzy inside,” Nyhof said. “The reality, I think, is on the wall: Oxbow is going to be eliminated. … It’s going to be very difficult, with the corps’ standards for their project, to save Oxbow.”

Several of the studies will be led solely by the Diversion Authority and done outside of the Corps of Engineers’ process. Local governments will pay for those analyses.

The locally driven studies will examine:

• Whether to move the diversion inlet south of Oxbow.

• Whether to move the diversion inlet north of the confluence of the Red and Wild Rice rivers.

• If staging and storage volume could change based on new or proposed upstream retention.

• If the Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke areas can be protected with levees or a ring dike.

The Diversion Authority’s studies come in response to months of public input and could change the project’s design and save money as it reduces the impact to rural communities, said Bruce Spiller, technical services manager for the authority’s project management team.

Spiller stressed that any changes that might jeopardize the current timeline of the project would be avoided, and any changes that are pursued would still be subject to scrutiny, such as on potential environmental impacts.

Results of all the studies should come back by October 2012, he said.

Several upstream residents who attended Thursday’s meeting, like Nyhof, voiced skepticism that any tangible or substantive change might come from the new studies.

“The idea of an alignment south of Oxbow being thrown up on the screen again – to me, that was dead six months ago,” Nyhof said, “and to see that pop back up: Is it reality or is it just a line on a screen?”

Meanwhile, the Army Corps is also helping with a few joint studies desired by the F-M Diversion Authority, similar to an ongoing study on whether Red River flows through Fargo-Moorhead can be increased to minimize the use of the diversion.

The studies being conducted by both the corps and the authority include:

• Whether to move the diversion inlet slightly north.

• How to protect existing communities with levees, namely Comstock and Christine.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541