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Craig Hertsgaard, Published August 18 2012

Diversion big show plays on

A college student I know recently returned from Tibet. China claims Tibet as its territory, but the Tibetans don’t like it. Tibet used to be ruled by the Dalai Lama. He’s in exile, and the Chinese aren’t excited about him coming back. Tibetans select the Dalai Lama by an ancient religious ritual, even though the Chinese prefer their appointments come from Beijing.

The students stayed in a hotel in a remote city, and across the street there was a Jumbotron, like in Times Square, playing video of the Chinese and Tibetans loving each other. Twenty-four hours a day they get along happily on the big screen. While the students were visiting, two Tibetan monks lit themselves on fire in the street to protest Chinese rule. You might have read about it earlier this summer. They didn’t seem so happy, yet the Jumbotron played on.

The Red River Diversion Authority issues an unending stream of information about their impending domination of southern Cass and Clay and northern Wilkin and Richland counties with a dam and reservoir. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on public relations to convince area residents that the diversion, as well as an unneeded dam and reservoir, are a “done deal.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The only thing that is certain is that the Army Corps of Engineers is following their internal process with the limited funding they have, and Fargo is generating enough money through their sales tax to pay their project managers and the corps. That’s it. The project is Fargo’s proposal and has not been authorized by Congress or any state government.

Individuals involved with the federal legislative process say it is unlikely there will be a Water Resources Development Act bill before 2014. That is the standard vehicle for water project authorization. Project costs increase at a minimum of 4 percent per year. That three-year delay will increase the cost of the project by $250 million more than its current

$2 billion. If the project is authorized, that does not mean it is funded. Currently there is a backlog of more than 1,000 unfunded authorized study and construction projects. Even if the federal government pays their projected amount, North Dakota would have to kick in at least $600 million, assuming there are no delays, and the unlikely chance that cost estimates are accurate.

Despite the realities of authorization and funding, the Diversion Authority’s information machine churns out breaking news. Public events have been held for contractors to prepare for bidding on project construction. It has become virtually impossible for residents to get appraisals on their homes, let alone sell them.

The ethics of the decision to place these communities in personal and financial limbo needs to be questioned. It may be decades, if ever, before the Diversion Authority is able to impose its will on unwilling neighbors to the south. Yet every note of information from the Diversion Authority says the project is imminent, don’t resist, we’re here to help.

And the Jumbotron plays on.


Hertsgaard is a Kindred, N.D., area farmer who has been involved with several organizations trying to resolve upstream diversion issues.