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Ross Baumgardner, Published March 01 2014

Letter: Diversion a rerun of history?

As a native of Fargo-Moorhead, but also coming from a family with deep historic roots around Comstock, Minn., I write to voice my family’s concerns about the Fargo-Moorhead diversion plan.

There is precedent for our concern. In 1944, Congress authorized the Pick-Sloan Plan to control downstream flooding of the Missouri River. This project, like the one in our community today, relied largely on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its production. A major structure of this plan is known infamously as the Garrison Dam. This dam was imposed on reservation land owned by three American Indian tribes.

What the corps claimed would be “appropriate negotiations” in land acquisition (affirmed to Congress by Army Corps Gen. Maj. Reybold) turned into eminent domain court proceedings. More alarming yet is the fact that the corps made no attempt to contact or inform the tribal governments about their plans for fair land acquisition or negotiations.

Aside from court proceedings, the tribes received what little information they did from third-party communications. Thus, the project ensued, uprooting 300 families and destroying sacred tribal sites, such as cemeteries and ritual migration routes. The Three Tribes were reimbursed a humiliating fraction of the “fair market value” of their assets and relocated to land that one author reports was stated in court as being “fit for rattlesnakes” but not humans. The dam left the culture and people of the tribes devastated and created lasting impacts for decades, some impacts arguably continuing yet today.

I like to think leaders of Fargo-Moorhead would not want to devastate the cultures and residents of the communities that lie within the zone of impact created by the diversion and dam. I am beginning to think otherwise as I note a strikingly familiar modus operandi of the Diversion Authority.

While claiming they “have every intention of approaching mitigation and right of way acquisition in a fair manner,” the authority consistently defers questions at public meetings by affected residents in the impact areas with a statement of “we’ll get back to you,” after which they seldom do.

Perhaps by looking at the past, proponents and opponents of can assume a wiser stance and determine what is truly valuable in this world. At this time, the outcome of the project may be obscure, but the morals of leadership are in full clarity.

Even though a diversion and reservoir might protect undeveloped flood-prone land and prevent the need for minor sandbagging, is it really worth the devastation of the cultures and lifestyles of the communities south of Fargo, in addition to the rest of its costs?

Baumgardner is a sophomore at Concordia College, Moorhead, studying music education and religion.