Upstream residents frustrated with project officials, want to hear specifics

CHRISTINE, N.D. – Residents living south of the proposed Red River diversion had questions for Fargo-Moorhead leaders, but they didn’t like the answers they received Monday night.

About 150 rural residents who oppose the project grilled Diversion Authority officials for nearly three hours about their concerns.

From right, Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt and Diversion Authority members Rodger Olson and Darrell Vanyo address questions and concerns from rural residents Monday night in Christine, N.D. About 150 residents gathered to hear the Diversion Authority officials at a meeting of the MnDak Upstream Coalition, which opposes the Red River diversion project. Kristen M. Daum / The Forum

Many of the questions couldn’t be answered thoroughly, though, because numerous details remain unknown, because the $1.78 billion diversion is still being designed and its impacts assessed.

But residents negatively impacted by the proposed diversion said those unknowns weren’t acceptable.

“We continue to hear: ‘It hasn’t been finalized.’ … This project is too far along to not have these answers,” said Nathan Berseth, spokesman for the MnDak Upstream Coalition, which hosted Monday’s meeting.

Diversion Authority members Darrell Vanyo and Rodger Olson and Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt answered questions from rural residents, school and township officials and business owners.

At the heart of the debate were concerns about the personal impacts the project will have on residents’ homes and livelihoods south of Fargo-Moorhead.

Upstream communities such as Christine, Hickson and Oxbow lie in an area that has been designated to hold back water south of the diversion during times of high flood.

Diversion Authority member and Leonard, N.D., farmer Rodger Olson responds to criticism Monday night from rural residents and from members of the MnDak Upstream Coalition, who oppose the Red River diversion project. Kristen M. Daum / The Forum

The impact will uproot numerous residents and businesses, and residents questioned repeatedly why they had to be the “sacrificial lambs” to ensure Fargo-Moorhead received flood protection.

For instance, residents asked why the Army Corps didn’t study a basinwide approach that emphasized water retention.

“Why have you not looked at an integrated plan to solve this problem so that Fargo can win and the upstream people aren’t impacted?” asked Craig Hertsgaard, a Kindred resident with the “Stop the Fargo Dam” group.

The corps’ feasibility study found that retention alone would not provide adequate protection for the metro area. As well, the farther away retention is located, the less effective it is in mitigating floods.

While valuable, the problem with retention is no resident wants the water stored on their land, Berndt said.

For that reason, finding an acceptable location for the retention solution is a challenge, he said.

The gathering grew increasingly heated over the course of the evening, as Diversion Authority officials answered residents’ questions as best they could but the responses weren’t received well.

Distrust with both Diversion Authority officials and the Army Corps of Engineers resonated in residents’ comments.

Fargo City Engineer Mark Bittner calmed the mood by acknowledging a meeting between diversion officials and affected residents came “way too late.”

“One of the areas we failed at miserably was getting out to the public,” Bittner said. “We owe you something.”

Diversion officials pledged to reach out further to residents affected by the project, specifically those in Richland and Wilkin counties who asked again Monday for a seat at the decision table.

“These things will continue to be analyzed, continue to be looked at,” said Vanyo, co-chairman of the Diversion Authority. “This project isn’t just forging ahead.”

5 thoughts on “Upstream residents frustrated with project officials, want to hear specifics

  1. I must reiterate that since it is clear that the Fargo Forum is a proponent of the Dam/Diversion, this site is not a true discussion forum. At best, it is a one-sided lecture. My money says is that it is really a propoganda machine. Nice job, Forum. When you’re ready to allow more than one viewpoint to be shared in this “discussion” forum, you will once again regain my respect.

    • Lori:

      Thanks for your comment. Again, my goal is to report the facts – not favor one side or another.

      If there is another factual, credible resource you feel I should be looking at in my reporting and research, please feel free to let me know. Also, if you feel the opponents’ stories aren’t being told, please let me know how you feel we could do a better job in that regard.

      Regards,
      ~ Kristen

  2. Kristen,

    I would propose that you sit down with MnDak board and members that have attempted to illustrate concerns so that you could look into those areas as an investigative journalist.

    Perhaps then you can get to the bottom of the story…or a least realize the ambiguities and immoralities that relate to the Fargo Dam and Diversion.

    The is another side to Mark Bittners portion of your article:

    “Fargo City Engineer Mark Bittner calmed the mood by acknowledging a meeting between diversion officials and affected residents came “way too late.” “One of the areas we failed at miserably was getting out to the public,” Bittner said. “We owe you something.”

    Mark offered truth that refutes Darrel Vanyo earlier misleading comments referring to having “met” with the affected people.

  3. Hi Kristen, I have another question for Forum Communications. I am curious why the option to submit comments accompanied by likes and dislikes were removed from the Fargo Forum but not from other publications it also owns — namely the Grand Forks Herald. Is it because the clear majority of comments surrounding the dam/diversion were against the so-called “locally-preferred plan” as well as all the “likes” supporting those comments? It’s clear from areavoices.com that the local populace is overwhelmingly NOT in favor of this plan. Why are you taking away the voice of the residents of the Red River Valley? Why are you trying to squelch public sentiment towards this unpopular plan?

    Does anything actually happen to these comments, or are they simply read and dismissed along with the valid concerns of all those the dam diversion authority wishes to eliminate?

    Lori Propp-Anderson

    • Lori,

      The Fargo Dam and Diversion supporters are so “in want” of a project that the USACE has openly admitted “won’t fully protect Fargo”, that they are will to ignore the billions in guaranteed devastation beyond the building of the proposed structure.