Erik Burgess, Published July 29 2013
Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project has 'plan B'MOORHEAD – There is a “plan B” for the Fargo-Moorhead diversion project if the feds don’t come through with authorization or construction dollars for the proposed $1.8 billion flood channel.
Any of the local sponsors could use local or state money to build pieces of the diversion ahead of federal approval using a special memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, diversion consultant Tom O’Hara told the Moorhead City Council on Monday night.
The U.S. Senate authorized the project earlier this year, but the House has yet to do so. Diversion proponents hope to have the House’s authorization by the end of the year.
On a project like this, local sponsors normally would have to wait for federal authorization and appropriation before signing a project partnership agreement allowing construction to begin, O’Hara said. The federal share of the total project is about $810 million.
But the local F-M diversion sponsors – Fargo, Moorhead and the Diversion Authority – could sign a construction memo of understanding with the corps to begin turning dirt before the project partnership agreement is in place, he said.
Any work done under a construction memo of understanding would be done “at your own risk,” said Brett Coleman, a corps project manager, meaning the local entities would be building these portions of the project with the understanding that the final project may never be authorized and built.
O’Hara said there has been no discussion of pursuing a construction memorandum of understanding for any of the diversion’s reaches, or pieces of the channel.
The Diversion Authority is considering using a construction memo of understanding to build a ring levee around Oxbow, Bakke and Hickson to the south of Fargo, and to build in-town levees in Fargo, O’Hara said.
If they choose to pursue that option, the local sponsors would sign a construction memo of understanding late this year, and construction on those levees could begin in summer 2014, O’Hara said.
If Congress appropriates money to the project, but it doesn’t come as fast as local officials want, diversion technicians have worked out a three-phase construction plan that saves for last the most expensive part of the channel – the $780 million middle section that crosses Interstate 94 and intersects the Sheyenne River.
The $380 million first phase is the stretch of the project north of the Maple River, and the $450 million second phase is the southern portion, including the staging area.
The phased work would still provide incremental benefits to the region, O’Hara said.
“The overall plan is to do it all,” he said. “But we wanted again to address the concerns about what happens if the funding doesn’t come as aggressively as we hoped for.”
Councilman Mark Altenburg said the plan is a relief.
“This gives me an idea of what this project’s going to look like whether or not the feds can come up or will come up with the money,” he said. “If things start to move, they’ll move rapidly, and I believe there are the resources on the North Dakota side.”
The diversion board’s budget for fiscal year 2014 is expected to be about $70 million, O’Hara said. Of that amount, Moorhead and Clay County will see a 50/50 split of $190,000, or 1 percent of the roughly $19 million in project costs next year that affect the Minnesota side.
The 2014 budget will be discussed at the Diversion Authority Board meeting in August.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518