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Kyle Potter, Published June 26 2013

Proposed changes to F-M diversion project upset landowners

FARGO – Proposed modifications to the path of the Fargo-Moorhead diversion have rankled area property owners whose homes could be displaced by the new route.

Hundreds of residents packed into the Fargo Civic Center Tuesday night to learn about planned changes to how the 36-mile channel will divert flood waters west of the metro area, including several homeowners who had no idea the route may be changed.

Leaders from the Diversion Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expect the modifications will cut $59 million from the project, which has an estimated $1.8 billion price tag. Diversion Authority chairman Darrell Vanyo said the altered route – revised since the initial plan was released in July 2011 – will be “the least costly and have the least impact.”

Marty Johnson, of Stanley Township, said the proposed route will force him out of the farm just south of Horace that’s been in his family since his great-grandfather built it in 1897.

“My place is gone,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he didn’t learn about the proposed changes until reading a notice in the paper.

“You couldn't come visit me? You couldn't come talk to me? You just drew the line in the sand and said live with it?" he asked.

Terry Williams, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told The Forum editorial board that they sent out notifications about the proposed changes and the scheduled meetings to discuss the new plan and gather feedback.

Aaron Snyder, another Army Corps project manager, said the authority started public meetings on the proposed alignment changes in September. A map showing all of those changes was posted online in December.

“Nothing in this document should be new to the public,” Snyder said.

The Diversion Authority is hosting another open house meeting tonight for residents around the northern chunk of the project at the Harwood Community Center at 210 Freedland Drive. The open house begins at 5:30 p.m.

Among the proposed changes to the diversion channel:

* Push the boundary about 1 1/2 miles north for the “staging area,” a 32,000-acre area south of Fargo where flood waters would collect to be fed into the diversion channel.

* Shift the diversion’s route as much as a mile farther west as it runs north alongside the Sheyenne Diversion.

* While the old plan’s northern section snaked along before reaching its end point almost 15 miles north of Fargo, the new plan calls for a straighter route.

* A new levee by Second Street, near City Hall in downtown Fargo, plus more tweaks to existing levees.

The new plan also includes a ring levee to be built around Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke. Those communities fall in the staging area, and diversion leaders originally planned to buy homeowners there out. The Diversion Authority reached an agreement with Oxbow officials for a levee earlier this month.

Also, engineers plan to dig the channel about 5 feet deeper and 50 feet wider, on average, than initially planned.

Details about the proposed changes are online at fmdiversion.com. Authorities are taking public comment on the changes until July 15. Mailed comments can be sent to: District Engineer, St. Paul District, Corps of Engineers, ATTN: Terry Williams, 180 Fifth Street East, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101.

The Diversion Authority is expected to approve the new route sometime in August.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502