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Published August 26 2012

Diversion Discussion: Corps officials say ‘don’t wait’ to lobby for F-M diversion on Capitol Hill

FARGO - Regional officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are advising Fargo-Moorhead leaders to resume their lobbying efforts in Washington as early as this fall.

The Diversion Authority suspended its lobbyist’s contract this spring after Minnesota and North Dakota members of Congress indicated action on the Red River diversion project was unlikely this year.

During a meeting Tuesday of the authority’s Executive Leadership Council, Fargo, Moorhead and Cass County leaders asked the corps’ regional top brass for advice on how to proceed with requests for authorization and federal funding.

“Visibility, timing, keeping it on the radar – those are all extremely critical,” said Michael Bart, the corps’ chief of engineering for the St. Paul District. “Don’t wait until after the election. It may be too late next March. Things happen quickly.”

District Commander Col. Michael Price said he’s already submitted his budget request for the next fiscal year, which includes continued design funding for the Red River diversion.

Price’s request will now go through intense scrutiny by White House officials before some variation ends up as part of the president’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2014.

Congress has the final say on where the money goes.

Corps officials said federal laws don’t allow them to advocate for congressional funding or volunteer such a suggestion to members on Capitol Hill.

“We try to fight for our projects, but there’s only so much we can do,” corps project manager Aaron Snyder said. “We can’t lobby for projects, but we can respond to questions.”

Price and Snyder advised local leaders to take the matter into their own hands by working with Minnesota and North Dakota members of Congress.

“Any project we’ve seen where the sponsors are more aggressive to get assistance, they tend to be more successful,” Snyder said.

Fargo-Moorhead leaders have made several trips to lobby leaders on Capitol Hill during the past three years of the project. Their most recent excursion was earlier this year.

With the Red River diversion approved by the corps, local leaders now seek congressional authorization for the project, as well as the funding they need for design and, ultimately, construction.

Without authorization, the corps can only request funding for continued design, Price said.

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