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Kyle Potter, Published January 21 2014

Diversion Authority OKs $400,000 increase for Minnesota DNR environmental study

FARGO – The Diversion Authority on Tuesday approved a $400,000 increase for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to study the environmental impacts of the proposed flood channel.

Nearly three years after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finished its environmental impact statement for the diversion, the Minnesota DNR’s review work – now with a price tag of up to $1.1 million – is beginning in earnest.

Diversion officials say the contract increase was necessary because the DNR used a placeholder amount, $750,000, for its own impact statement when its contract was previously approved.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a federal review of the proposed $1.8 billion project in 2011.

The DNR’s review will borrow some from the federal review, but Minnesota laws require a state-specific study.

“There are some additional requirements in Minnesota, so there are some additional things that they, under state law, have to study,” Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt said.

So far, the DNR has lagged behind. The revised contract is a result of finalizing the scope of their review.

In a letter to the Diversion Authority just last week, the DNR warned that proposed plans for a ring levee around Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke without the DNR’s approval could break Minnesota law. The Diversion Authority had planned to start construction later this year on the levee, which proponents contend is independent from the 36-mile flood channel.

Cass County Commissioner and Diversion Authority member Ken Pawluk wondered whether the contract increase was “because the Minnesota DNR seems opposed to this project.”

“So from their standpoint: ‘If we put a big enough price tag on it, maybe they won’t want to go forward,’ ” Pawluk speculated.

Several Diversion Authority members said they didn’t believe that was the case.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker considered voting against the contract amendment, which he called “quite large” without seeing the documents to back its necessity.

Walaker said he’s been concerned about the DNR’s review process being dragged out, holding up construction.

“We’ve all been trying to achieve consensus,” he said. “It’s been very difficult.”


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