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Published August 10 2012

Upstream communities plan for diversion legal fight

FARGO – The Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority is taking steps toward a formal legal challenge of the Red River diversion project.

The two counties south of Fargo and Moorhead established the JPA in late February as a vehicle to eventually protest the $1.8 billion Red River diversion project in court.

In the months since, the JPA’s membership has ballooned to include 15 townships, 10 cities, three counties, two school districts and three other organizations.

The Richland-Wilkin JPA said in a Thursday news release that it plans to make two open records requests in an attempt to gain more evidence to support its legal position.

The JPA alleges that the Fargo-Moorhead project violates state and federal laws, specifically North Dakota’s constitutional provision protecting against eminent domain for private economic gain.

“We believe that Fargo and Moorhead deserves adequate flood protection, but not at the expense of upstream farmsteads, churches, schools and communities,” the JPA said in its statement. “We intend aggressively to defend our communities with all appropriate legal action.”

The JPA’s members are from areas in Minnesota and North Dakota south of Fargo-Moorhead, where the project threatens rural communities.

Critics of the diversion plan have long claimed that Fargo city leaders manipulated the project plans so as to result in the best benefit for Fargo – not for flood protection, but rather to maximize developable land that the diversion would eventually protect.

Aside from the claims of unlawful eminent domain, the JPA also alleges that the project’s scope violates national flood control policies that prohibit development in an existing undeveloped flood plain.

The 35-mile Red River diversion channel would swoop around Fargo, West Fargo, Harwood and Horace, protecting the cities and some surrounding undeveloped farmland. As planned, it would permanently displace the communities of Oxbow, Hickson and the Bakke Addition, immediately south of Fargo-Moorhead.

In all, 54,700 acres of rural land south of the project would be used for temporary storage of floodwater when the diversion is operating.

The extra water could have an impact as far south as the northern end of Richland and Wilkin counties, but the most extreme water levels will be near the southern end of the diversion, officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have said.

For month, the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority has been studying how to reduce the project’s cost and the upstream harm on rural communities.

A recommendation of those studies’ findings will be made to the Diversion Authority board on Sept. 13, but a vote on any official alterations to the project won’t come until October.

Diversion Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

The Richland-Wilkin JPA has hired a St. Cloud legal firm, Rinke Noonan, to help them in their protest.

Members of the Richland-Wilkin

Joint Powers Authority

COUNTIES:

Dickey County

Richland County

Wilkin County

CITIES:

Abercrombie

Breckenridge

Campbell

Christine

Colfax

Comstock

Mooreton

Kindred

Oxbow

Wolverton

TOWNSHIPS:

Alliance Township

Brandenburg Township

Colfax Township

Eagle Township

Holy Cross Township

Maple River Township

Mooreton Township

Nansen Township

Normanna Township

Pleasant Township

Sheyenne Township

Viking Township

Walcott Township

Waldo Township

Wolverton Township

SCHOOL DISTRICTS:

Kindred Public Schools

Richland 44 School District

OTHER:

Bakke Addition Home Association

Richland Count Water Resource District

SE County Commissioners


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


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