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Wendy Reuer, Published June 24 2013

Moorhead council members question continued support of F-M diversion project

MOORHEAD – Some Moorhead City Council members are saying it is time to consider whether the city should continue being a sponsor of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project.

The Fargo City Commission and Moorhead City Council – both local sponsors of the project – were each asked to approve an agreement on Monday that would establish the Diversion Authority Board as a third sponsor and allow the study of the diversion to exceed the previously set limit of $30 million by another $30 million.

The Fargo City Commission unanimously approved the resolution without discussion as part of the commission’s consent agenda on Monday, while the Moorhead City Council ultimately tabled a vote on the resolution.

The Diversion Authority was granted an initial

$30 million project design budget, of which Minnesota entities (Clay County, city of Moorhead and watershed districts) are responsible for about $440,000.

The new agreement would allow the Diversion Authority to spend up to $60 million on design-related costs of the project while it awaits federal authorization.

The $1.8 billion diversion, which would push water around the F-M metro during major floods, was authorized by the U.S. Senate in May but has yet to be approved by the House. Construction dollars for the project still need to be appropriated by Congress. The federal share of the project is about $800 million.

The Diversion Authority had hoped to have full federal authorization for the project in place by 2013, Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said. But because that hasn’t happened yet, the authority needs to have a set spending amount prior to the start of the federal fiscal year, Oct. 1. If a spending amount is not in place, the project stalls, he said.

How the Diversion Authority would spend the additional $30 million and how much each city would pay out of pocket would be determined by the authority later this summer when it amends its joint powers agreement.

On Monday night, Councilman Mark Hintermeyer said he was uncomfortable approving a resolution without knowing how much money Moorhead would be asked to pay.

“There’s a bigger issue here: How many years are we going to continue to commit to this project without federal authorization?” Hintermeyer said.

Hintermeyer said the city must have a discussion about whether remaining a partner in the diversion project is a good idea.

“We could be spending money on a diversion that will never happen,” Hintermeyer said, adding that Moorhead’s recent flood protection efforts may make the diversion moot.

Councilwoman Nancy Otto said the city is protected up to 42.5 feet, but the F-M diversion would protect up to 46.7 feet.

“Which is beyond anything we are now capable of,” Otto said. “So we’re protected to a certain level, but we’re not protected to an all-out disaster level, which is why the diversion (is needed).”

Otto, who represents Moorhead on the Diversion Authority Board, said if the city pulled out as a sponsor, it would have major consequences for the project.

“One of the decisions this council has to arrive at is: Are we going to continue this partnership or not? If we’re not, that is going to basically kill the project,” Otto said.

Hintermeyer also expressed reservations over making the Diversion Authority a third sponsor.

Moorhead City Attorney John Shockley said adding the Diversion Authority as a third sponsor could help distribute the responsibility to those entities that make up the board such as Cass and Clay counties and water districts.

Moorhead City Council will discuss the resolution again at its July 8 meeting.

The Diversion Authority Board meets July 11.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530