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Kyle Potter, Published April 10 2014

F-M diversion leaders move forward on contested ring dike

FARGO – With the threat of a federal injunction from project opponents looming, diversion leaders moved ahead Thursday with a ring levee around three communities south of the Fargo-Moorhead area in hopes of starting construction in July.

Last week, the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority announced it plans to seek an injunction in federal court to block construction of a ring dike around Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke, a controversial piece of the proposed $1.8 billion F-M flood protection project.

The request for that injunction has not yet been filed. And until a judge tells them not to proceed with construction, Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson told the Diversion Authority at a Thursday meeting “we are free to move forward.”

Diversion leaders laid out their plan to do that at their monthly meeting.

They’ll start advertising a bidding process for the $65 million ring dike early next week, open bidding on May 6, close bidding on May 8 and begin construction as soon as July 1, CH2M Hill project manager Bruce Spiller said.

The Cass County Joint Water Resources District will manage the ring dike project.

In order for the plan to be halted, Johnson said the Richland-Wilkin group would need to prove the Oxbow area would be “irreparably harmed” by the project and that the group would have a substantial likelihood of succeeding with its underlying case.

In announcing their intent to seek an injunction, members of the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority argued the ring dike would be unnecessary if the larger diversion project – a 36-mile flood channel around the metro – is never built. The full project is still awaiting final approval from Congress and an environmental study by Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources.

A spokesman from the JPA and its attorney did not return a request for comment Thursday. Last week, spokesman Nathan Berseth told the Forum the group hoped to file the injunction request within the next two weeks.

The Richland-Wilkin group is also suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in federal court over the diversion project. Its case argues diversion leaders unnecessarily expanded the scope of the $1.8 billion diversion, damaging farmland in the so-called staging area in order to protect land south of Fargo for future development.

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