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Wendy Reuer, Published July 09 2013

Moorhead OKs $30 million design budget; nixes adding Diversion Authority as a sponsor

MOORHEAD – The City Council here approved upping the design ante for the F-M diversion another $30 million on Monday night but denied naming the Diversion Authority as a third sponsor.

How the Diversion Authority will spend the additional $30 million and how much local entities will pay out of pocket will be determined by the authority later this summer when it amends its joint powers agreement. The joint powers agreement would then have to be approved by the diversion project sponsors: the cities of Fargo and Moorhead.

On Monday night, Moorhead council members said they want the final budget to specify how much money Moorhead would ultimately pay in diversion design costs.

The Diversion Authority was initially granted a $30 million design budget, but because it has reached that cap before federal authorization, a $60 million budget was requested.

Officials said adding the Diversion Authority as a sponsor to the project would then allow Cass and Clay counties, along with watershed districts, to share the financial responsibilities of the authority. But Councilman Mark Altenburg said he was not comfortable giving appointed entities the ability to make financial decisions.

“My concern is granting power to a non-taxing entity,” Altenburg said. “I’m more comfortable with Moorhead and Fargo being the sole sponsors.”

Federal authorization

Of the former $30 million design budget, Minnesota entities (including Moorhead, Clay County and the Buffalo Red River Watershed District) were responsible for about $440,000, or 10 percent. North Dakota entities are responsible for the rest, said Tom O’Hara, a program manager with the design consultant firm CH2M Hill.

O’Hara said although the Diversion Authority could spend up to $60 million, it estimates it will spend $8 million to $10 million more on design in the next year.

Councilman Mark Hintermeyer said the state has not formally agreed to anything and he is concerned that Moorhead would ultimately be liable for any uncovered costs.

“Up to this point, the governor and state Legislature will not engage until there is [federal] authorization,” Hintermeyer said.

Hickson, N.D., resident and critic of the diversion Marcus Larson and rural Moorhead resident Don Nelson asked that the council Monday not sign the agreement.

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 dol-lars are also yet to be ap-propriated by Congress. The federal share of the project is about $800 mil-lion.

If the Diversion Authority does not have a set spending amount prior to the start of the federal fiscal year on Oct. 1, the project stalls, O’Hara said Monday.

Fargo unanimously approved a resolution at its June 24 meeting that in-creased the design budget and added the Diversion Authority as a sponsor. Moorhead City Attorney Sarah Nyhus-Wear said Fargo will now need to approve a resolution similiar to Moorhead’s.

The Diversion Authority Board meets Thursday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530