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Erik Burgess, Published February 15 2013

Renewed PR push for diversion won’t tap public cash

FARGO – Taxpayer dollars will not be used to fund a public pro-diversion push supporters are planning.

In a meeting earlier this week, the Diversion Authority’s public outreach committee had raised the possibility of buying advertisements in hopes of countering what officials say is frequently spread misinformation about the proposed $1.8 billion flood control diversion.

Diversion officials are especially concerned about the public statements of project opponents who live in an area south of Fargo-Moorhead that would store overflow floodwater when the diversion would be in use, including the small communities of Bakke, Hickson and Oxbow.

But the project’s public outreach committee told the full Authority Board on Thursday that its desire to disseminate facts about the project would be done via positive “earned” media and face-to-face outreach to state legislators, not with paid advertisements.

“Our mission is to get correct information to the public. We’re not advertising,” said Rodger Olson, chairman of the public outreach committee. “There’s nothing wrong with getting correct information out using public dollars, period.”

No funds were allocated for an ad campaign in Thursday’s meeting, nor is one planned, Olson said. He said diversion officials will rely on public affairs staff already in place to do more outreach to legislators and media outlets.

“I don’t think that we’ve done a very good job of getting our message into the media much the same as the opponents have,” said Ken Pawluk, a Cass County commissioner and diversion board member. “There’s a lot of people who benefit (from the diversion) that we don’t ever hear from.”

Olson said an ad push is still possible in the future, but he said it would not be pro- or anti-diversion, rather a “full page representation of the facts.”

“We have to make sure that the people (legislators) that are going to vote have the correct information so they can make a good decision,” Olson said.

The North Dakota House will decide on House Bill 1020, the state water commission budget, by the end of this month. That budget includes $102 million in flood mitigation funding for Cass County, and it should go to the state Senate in March for discussion.

Pawluk said 92 percent of Cass County’s population is benefited by the project, but diversion leaders haven’t pushed those stories to the forefront.

“We haven’t really asked anyone to step up and support the diversion,” he said. “And gosh, if Brad Wimmer never asked someone if they wanted to buy a diamond, he just isn’t going to sell very many diamonds, and I think it’s the same for us.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518