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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published April 29 2013

Water Commission budget, diversion funding pass

BISMARCK – The Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project will have the blessing of the state government once Gov. Jack Dalrymple signs the state’s Water Commission budget into law, but it doesn’t come without strings attached.

Lawmakers passed the budget in House Bill 1020 on Monday, which includes $100 million toward the state’s $450 million share, along with provisions to help mitigate the differences between those backing the project and those living south of town that could be affected by floodwaters once the project is built.

“The language is softer, but it says a lot of the same things – we need federal funding for that project,” said Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, who carried the bill to the floor.

The bill was amended with more sensitive provisions to the MnDak Upstream Coalition, a group of residents from the Kindred and Oxbow areas south of Fargo lobbying against the diversion.

The Diversion Authority will only be able to spend state dollars for levee and dike protection, and can only move forward with the full project once it receives federal authorization, a project partnership agreement with the federal government, a federal appropriation of any amount for construction and the budget has been approved by the Water Commission.

Even if the $1.8 billion project meets all the requirements, a recent addition to the bill says no construction can take place on the south end of the diversion until July 1, 2014.

“It gives them more time to develop those plans and let all interested parties and affected parties have input on that,” Carlson said.

Diversion Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo said this was a good provision to include in the bill, however the project is not scheduled to start at the south end of the diversion.

Starting at the sound end would give Upstream members less time to come up with alternatives to the current plan.

Nathan Berseth, of Colfax, has been an Upstream Coalition member for 2½ years. He owns farmland near Christine – close to the area that could take on water if the diversion is built.

He said the project is a long way from moving forward with the bill’s requirements, but still isn’t happy with the final product passed by the Legislature.

“I didn’t think Fargo compromised that much,” he said. “Holding back one year might prolong it some, but it won’t do much for those south of Fargo.”

The bill now includes the Upstream Coalition, which will have to report to lawmakers during the interim session any updates on the impacts the diversion may have upstream, as well as any mitigation efforts, alternatives and costs.

“I’m sure this isn’t going to silence their voice with regard to opposing the diversion,” he said. “But I hope they can realize they did gain something out of this legislation they didn’t have before.

Under the bill, state funds may be used for land purchases and construction, including right-of-way acquisition costs, but may not be used to purchase dwellings. No more than 10 percent of state funds can be used for engineering, legal, planning, or other similar purposes.

The city of Fargo, Cass County and the Cass County Joint Water Resource District must approve any expenditure made.

Rep. John Wall, R-Wahpeton, said while the bill has some safeguards built into it for the upstream communities, they only temporarily protect them are he doesn’t think they are well delineated and they establish a precedent the Legislature should not set.

“It could allow for one of the largest private property takings in the history of our state and could be opening the door for the flooding of primary agricultural land with no history of flooding,” he said on the floor. “This is not what neighbors do to neighbors.”

The bill appropriates $100 million toward the total $450 million state share of the project.

With the bill, the Legislature has committed $175 million so far and will make up the $275 million in the next four bienniums.