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Maureen McMullen, Published January 23 2014

F-M diversion opponents propose alternative that moves diversion north, uses retention reservoirs

COMSTOCK, Minn. – Opponents of a proposed $1.8 billion diversion channel around Fargo-Moorhead announced a flood control option Thursday night they feel will put residents of communities south of Fargo-Moorhead at ease.

The Diversion Authority is proposing a $65 million ring levee around Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke. The three communities south of Fargo would be in the so-called “staging area” to hold water during major floods before it moves through the proposed $1.8 billion diversion channel.

Dikes are also proposed around Comstock and Wolverton in Minnesota.

During a meeting in Comstock, members from the MNDak Upstream Coalition and the Richland-Wilkin County (N.D.) Joint Powers Authority proposed a plan they say would eliminate the need for ring dikes around the communities and allow Fargo to be protected from 100- and 500-year floods.

Their plan would move the diversion north and use distributive storage, a method involving a system of reservoirs to safely distribute the water.

“Distributive storage is basically taking water off some of the tributaries that come into the Red River and holding them until the peak flood goes by, and then releasing that water,” said Nathan Berseth, a spokesman for the MnDak Upstream Coalition.

“If you add in upstream retention, you could almost eliminate all of the storage area needed,” he said. “Along with that, there’s no need for the ring dike around Oxbow, Bakke, Hickson and Comstock.”

Karla Slusher, owner of J & K taxidermy three miles north of Oxbow, said current diversion plans could take a toll on her home and livelihood.

Her business and home on 16 acres of land she owns are in the direct path of the diversion.

“So, if this diversion were to materialize, it would wipe our property and our business out,” Slusher said. “So, that’s why we’re concerned about. It’s not only where we live, it’s our business as well. We would take a direct hit from this diversion.”

Brad Wimmer, a Fargo city commissioner and Diversion Authority board member who attended the meeting, said he feels everyone “points the finger at Fargo” during diversion discussions.

“I always wish the language would be a little different and they’d be a little friendlier,” he said. “It’s a Cass County project. Clay County gets a lot of benefits, also.” He said many landowners will also benefit from the project “and getting that word across and trying to mesh these two groups here is going to be our goal for the next year, try to bring everyone together.”

Despite Wimmer’s frustration with disagreements about the flood control options, he said he understands the concerns of affected communities.

“We appreciate the passion that these people have for their farms and businesses and their personal life,” Wimmer said.

“We’re messing their lives a little bit and I always said we know it’s not going to be positive for everybody.”