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Dave Olson, Published September 13 2012

New diversion alignment options creates new set of winners and losers

MOORHEAD - Jim Livdahl’s family has owned a farmstead south of Moorhead for close to 120 years.

Livdahl, 84, is retired and lives in Moorhead. His son, Pete, still farms on the family’s land.

Now, the future of the property is in doubt since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is voicing support for shifting the southern leg of a proposed flood diversion project about one mile north of its current course.

“It’s kind of hard to take,” said Jim Livdahl, referring to the news that the future of his family’s land, once thought to be safe, is now in question.

The corps hosted a presentation Thursday morning in Moorhead at which it outlined options for how the southern end of a flood diversion project might be aligned, a change that would be cheaper than the current federally recommended plan and that would shift upstream impacts farther north.

Livdahl attended the presentation with neighbor Ron Erickson, who owns land just north of the Livdahl homestead.

Erickson’s land, which would have been safe under the federally recommended plan, would sit smack dab beneath the diversion structure itself if the corps’ preferred alternative is chosen, according to information provided by corps officials.

The corps stressed Thursday that impacts of some kind will be unavoidable if a diversion is built.

Where those impacts will fall is the question, with each alignment option carrying its own ramifications.

The public was given a chance to voice opinions regarding alignment options at a meeting held Thursday night in Moorhead.

One of those in attendance was Ray Holzhey, who has a home in Hickson, N.D. Holzhey said he is somewhat resigned to the idea his home and others nearby will likely be sacrificed for the project.

“I am one person against the needs of 150,000,” he said, adding the situation is ironic because his house sits so high he has never had to sandbag since moving to the area in 1994.

In their presentation Thursday night, the Diversion Authority said $25 million is available to study, design and install retention projects that would complement the diversion. Jim Nyhof, mayor of Oxbow, asked the authority staff why that money wasn’t being used to keep water out of his town.

“Congress has not authorized or funded this project, so there is no risk in losing that funding,” Nyhof said. “So what stops the diversion authority from doing something to protect Oxbow until the project is funded and authorized?”

Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo said they have done “everything possible” in studying supplementary projects.

Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, cautioned the authority, saying the estimated

$550 million that would be asked of North Dakota is not guaranteed money.

At Thursday’s meetings the corps provided updates on diversion planning and analysis that has occurred since last year.

Highlights include:

E The inclusion of levees/floodwalls in Fargo that would increase Red River flows through the city and reduce how often a diversion may have to be used as well as the length of time it would need to operate when it is used.

E Gates on the diversion inlet, which would reduce upstream impacts and provide more flexibility in project operation.

E A technical analysis weighing the pros and cons of alignment options, including four known as: Value Engineering No. 13-A (VE13A); Value Engineering No. 13-C (VE13C); North of the Wild Rice/Red River Confluence (NWRRR); and South of Oxbow.

Corps officials said the agency favors option VE13A, stating that, when combined with levees and gates, it would shave about $53 million off the total cost of the project.

Officials said the option would also eliminate one water storage area now being contemplated, and it would eliminate the need to build a structure on Wolverton Creek.

Also, officials said that under the VE13A option, which moves the southern diversion alignment about one mile further north than the one in the federally recommended plan, the already minimal impacts a diversion would have on Wilkin and Richland counties would be reduced even more.

For example, under that alignment, during a 100-year flood two homes in Wilkin County and three homes in Richland County would be affected by a diversion, as would about 1,000 acres of land in each county.

Under the VE13A option, buyouts would continue to be necessary in the Cass County communities of Oxbow, Bakke and Hickson.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker and Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland both said the option favored by the corps appears to provide advantages.

Voxland stressed, however, that the local Diversion Authority will select an option to pursue only after public input has been received. That decision is expected to be made when the board meets Oct. 11.

Corps officials said if levees and floodwalls are included in the project, it’s possible a diversion would only need to operate about once every 10 years, as opposed to every three or four years if those components are not in the picture.

They added that given the history of flooding in the valley, the chances of a diversion having to operate in the summer time would be almost nil if levees and floodwalls are included.

Walaker said it is becoming increasingly clear to him that a diversion must be built and that communities like Oxbow, Bakke and Hickson will be affected. He said that in his opinion, energy now being spent to try to stop a diversion should instead be expended preparing for what will need to happen in coming years.

The approximately $1.8 billion diversion project has yet to receive congressional authority. Officials have said once construction starts, the project could take about eight years to complete.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

Forum reporter Erik Burgess contributed to this report