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Erik Burgess, Published March 07 2013

Diversion advocates hope to kill amendments

FARGO – Fargo-Moorhead diversion officials say the stakes are high today, when their work begins to rid the proposed State Water Commission budget of amendments they say would kill the $1.8 billion flood control project.

Testimony in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee begins this morning, and several local leaders plan to testify against amendments offered by House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, which prevent several years of state funding from being used for a Red River diversion project.

The restrictions apply to the $100 million proposed for Fargo flood control projects over the next two years, as well as $45 million approved in 2009 and

$30 million approved in 2011.

The amended budget, or House Bill 1020, passed the House last month by a 90-4 vote, with many Fargo representatives saying they hoped the Senate removed the restrictions.

Diversion Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo said even without Carlson’s changes, officials would be in Bismarck testifying about the importance of the project.

“But there’s even more of a need for us to be there now; now that there’s amendments,” he said. “We’re certainly not opposed to the money that’s in House Bill 1020, but we’re opposed to how they restrict its usage.”

The diversion project has yet to be authorized and funded by the federal government, and Carlson said the amendments ensure the feds are on board first before the state provides any funds.

Diversion advocates say the restrictions will stall the project and balloon costs. They also argue that if the state doesn’t show support the project, the federal government will be less likely to authorize it.

There are some who agree with the amendments.

Nathan Berseth, a spokesman for the MnDak Upstream Coalition, called them a “prudent use of state taxpayers’ dollars.” The coalition has raised concerns about the effect of the diversion on upstream communities.

Vanyo said he plans to testify, along with Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof, Cass County Commissioner Ken Pawluk, Fargo City Commissioner Brad Wimmer, and Aaron Snyder, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We’re going to try to carefully educate the legislators as to why we have concerns about the amendments,” said Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt.

Berseth said he expects members from the coalition to be at the hearing and that both sides of the argument will be presented. He said he sees the amendments as the crux of the testimony that will take place today.

“I think they’re excellent,” he said of the amendments. “They allow for Fargo to receive 100-plus- year flood protection. That’s exactly what the governor requested.”

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker has disputed the claim that Fargo can still get to 42.5 feet of protection with the amendments in place, partly because they forbid state funding for ring dikes and buyouts.

Berseth said if Fargo is worried about home buyouts, it can use city sales tax funds, not state dollars.

If the Senate passes a bill different than the House’s, the two bodies would go into conference committee to hash out the details.

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