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Rep. Al Carlson, Published February 27 2013

Letter: Valley flood protection vitally important to us all

Having lived in Fargo since 1969, I have participated in many floods. No one is more committed to protecting Fargo, West Fargo and the surrounding communities from devastating flooding than I am. I have worked for three sessions to make sure the state’s share of funding is in place and ready to go when the project is ready. But, there are many questions to be answered before we start digging, including a firm commitment from the federal government for their share.

In my discussions with city officials they stated that they would like to continue to provide protection to the city at a level of 42.5 feet. My proposed amendment does just that while ensuring all funding is in place before we commit to a project that will eventually cost almost $2 billion.

So how do we pay for a $2 billion project?

I believe that federal funding for this project is a long shot. We are dealing with a federal government that is broke; talk of sequester has already begun. Another problem with moving forward without assurance of federal funding is that history has shown that when our dollar is the first dollar in, it can be very difficult to be reimbursed for the federal share on money already spent.

If the federal government does fund the project, then I can assure you that the state stands ready to do our part.

I am sympathetic to those in Fargo and West Fargo, along with those south and north of the city. Oxbow and Bakke have received an unfair reduction of values of their properties due to the effects of the diversion plan. Ring dikes may be the answer, and I would be supportive of that plan. However, how much does it cost and who pays what share? Those questions should be answered as this bill moves to the Senate.

There is no lack of commitment to the valley in this state budget. We have allocated $557 million to water projects of all types across North Dakota. Fargo and Cass County will receive $111 million of that budget for flood protection and the Red River Water Supply. Additionally, a

$15 million grant has been offered to enhance our water treatment facility.

My amendment actually authorizes $175 million in state funds to be available for flood protection now, but I am attempting to make sure we do not get too far ahead of ourselves. I think it is inappropriate to start the construction of the diversion project and buy homes. It also allows the engineering to proceed, but caps the fees at 10 percent.

Is that too harsh? As a legislator as well as a resident of Fargo, I need to know what the whole project will be and who will pay for it, before we start digging.

So, you can see my concern. The issue of funding is a very important question, especially if the federal investment doesn’t materialize. Fargo, the surrounding communities and the state could end up on the hook for the entire $2 billion. If that happens, we have limited options, including local sales taxes already in place, additional special assessments that would last for upward of 50 years, significant state funding that might be beyond even what these good times could afford, or even a scaled-down plan.

There are lots of questions and lots of what-ifs. We need answers before we can confidently move forward. Anything less may leave us on the hook for the full $2 billion or construction that doesn’t fit the final funded plan.

The debate is far from over. As the bill moves forward, I welcome your comments, concerns and solutions. In the end, my goal is to have a responsible plan that provides smart flood protection for Fargo and the surrounding area and one that is built on a sound financial plan.

Rep. Carlson, R-Fargo, is majority leader of the North Dakota House.