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Forum staff reports, Published October 14 2013

Shutdown puts F-M diversion lawsuit on hold

FARGO - The federal government shutdown has hit the pause button on a pending lawsuit against the proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion.

Without money from Congress, the Department of Justice – which is representing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the lawsuit – said it could not work on the case while the shutdown drags on. A U.S. District Court judge earlier this month granted the department’s request for a stay on the case until the shutdown ends, putting all court proceedings on hold.

After more than a year of considering a legal challenge, the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the corps in August.

The suit accuses diversion leaders of unnecessarily expanding the scope of the flood protection project, which opponents allege has multiplied its estimated cost to $1.8 billion and will damage farmland that falls in the so-called staging area south of the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, where water would collect in the event of a severe flood.

The corps had been due to respond to that suit in court filings by Friday at the latest. The judge denied a request from Assistant U.S. Attorney Friedrich Siekert to push back all deadlines by however many days the shutdown lasts.

Corps officials told the Diversion Authority last week that the shutdown, now in its third week, would not hinder any design work on the proposed 36-mile flood channel.