Tempers flare as Richland, Wilkin leaders question F-M diversion plan

WAHPETON, N.D. – Distrust and skepticism resonated from Richland and Wilkin county leaders and nearly 100 rural residents who gathered Monday night in the hopes of getting answers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the proposed Red River diversion.

Corps officials and members of Fargo-Moorhead’s Diversion Authority held the public meeting to address concerns and review plans for the project, including its proposed impacts that extend into the two southern counties.

But many Richland and Wilkin residents left Monday’s meeting with lingering animosity over the diversion plan, which would force extra water on rural properties and displace some residents.

Terry Williams, a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, explains the proposed impacts of the Red River diversion project to Richland and Wilkin county leaders and about 100 rural residents who gathered on Monday, March 19, 2012 for a community meeting in Wahpeton, N.D. Kristen M. Daum / The Forum.

Although current plans forecast the diversion’s most severe impacts will be in a proposed temporary water storage area in southern Cass and Clay counties, the project is also poised to add as much as 1 foot of extra water on some properties in northern Richland and Wilkin counties.

While reviewing the proposed impacts, Army Corps project managers also discussed the various alternatives that engineers are studying in the hopes of reducing those proposed impacts – but they also cautioned that any changes to the project must be vetted before they’re pursued.

Tempers flared during the lengthy discussion between the Army Corps officials and the upstream leaders. The conversation grew hostile as Richland and Wilkin leaders specifically questioned the validity of the corps’ models.

Corps Project Manager Aaron Snyder said the corps’ analysis for the F-M diversion is “by far one of the best models ever developed.”

“It’s far superior to anything ever used in Grand Forks-East Grand Forks or Roseau” for flood projects there, Snyder said. “This is the best information available.”

Despite the corps’ explanations, Richland and Wilkin officials argued that they believe, because a 100-year flood event in Fargo might not equal a 100-year flood event upstream, the impacts could be far worse than the corps predicts.

Clay County Commissioner Kevin Campbell answers a question from Wilkin County leaders during a community meeting Monday, March 19, 2012, in Wahpeton N.D. Project managers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held the gathering to answer questions and explain the proposed impacts of the Red River diversion project. Kristen M. Daum / The Forum.

“The reality of what may happen is there could be extreme damage based on what this is proposing,” Wilkin County Attorney Timothy Fox said. “You really don’t know.”

In responding to the upstream leaders’ criticism, Diversion Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo defended the corps’ thorough vetting of the project.

“We aren’t just haphazardly picking a diversion, so we can just dump water upstream,” Vanyo said. “When you’re trying to protect for at least 100 years or more, this is what we’re being told.”

Richland County Commission Chairman Perry Miller reiterated that the upstream communities’ concerns don’t lie with the diversion itself.

“It’s the dam that gives us heartburn,” Miller said, referring to the planned storage area. “It’s pushing the water back that’s really going to stifle our development. The way I see it, we’re sacrificing our north-end development so you guys can develop south of Davies High School.”

Richland Commissioner Tim “Soup” Campbell agreed.

“We’re going to stick up for our residents, too,” Campbell said. “By God, we’re going to stand up and fight for our guys.”

Richland and Wilkin county leaders have signed a joint-powers agreement with the intent of using local tax dollars to fight the Fargo-Moorhead project.

The upstream impacts stem from a planned staging area south of the F-M diversion channel that would temporarily hold back severe floodwaters before they’re funneled into the diversion.

That storage would bring several feet of extra floodwater on some properties, likely displacing many residents and temporarily affecting family farms.

Wilkin and Richland counties are farther south of the proposed staging area, but some properties there could see a foot or less of extra water directly because of the project.

According to corps data, in a 100- and 500-year flood event, almost all of the affected structures in Richland and Wilkin counties would be impacted by floodwaters with or without the diversion project.

“A majority of the impacted acreage is already in the (flood plain),” corps project manager Terry Williams explained, adding that those impacts are worst near and along the river channel itself.

Between the two counties, the corps’ data shows four more homes and nine more non-residential structures would see floodwater directly because of the diversion project, when they wouldn’t have otherwise in a 500-year flood.

That equates to 767 acres that would be impacted by floodwater directly because of the project under the worst-case scenario.

In comparison, 753 structures – including 271 homes – across 43,621 acres would be inundated in a 500-year flood under the present conditions without the diversion project.

During a 10-year event, which would theoretically be more commonplace, the impacts to Richland and Wilkin counties are still confined to only a few structures.

The corps’ data shows five structures – including two homes – across 250 acres would see extra water because of the project under a 10-year flood event.

41 thoughts on “Tempers flare as Richland, Wilkin leaders question F-M diversion plan

  1. Have the farmers back-fill their drainage ditches and allow the water to evaporate naturally like it did in the 30′s, 40′s and 50′s before they ditched their land to overwhelm the Red River in the greedy interest of early planting.
    The law of unintended effects has bit them in the arse. Deal with it farmers.

    • and then David, it might be your “greedy interest” in eating that spurred farmers to plant earlier. Or perhaps it is all those homes and properties built near rivers for the view that altered the watercourse?
      Whatever the reason for the increased flooding in this area we ought to all pull together, not point the finger at one sector for blame.
      Maybe you should “deal with it”?

    • What an ignorant uneducated comment. Why doesn’t Fargo take out all of the concrete, asphalt, houses, etc. and let the river flood “naturally” like it has for all of history.

      • to steve and rural……

        how about farmers letting water be retained like it “naturally” did for all of history? all of the concrete, asphalt, and houses have absolutely no affect on the watercourse and ecology of this river….is any man made structure affecting the river at its low points? no……when its at 35 feet yeah its interacting with roads, concrete, and asphalt for what less than a month…..? what an ignorant uneducated comment. the banks of the red weren’t reshaped within the last few years if they even have been reshaped at all….a diversion alters the watercourse of the river not a couple homes….i have yet to hear more than a few valid points on here…..if one’s name and address appeared in the comment many would think through what they put on the web

    • It comments like your’s that add fuel to the fire. First you are taking peoples lives away from them and we are not being treated with any concern. The talk of the Dam has already cost me over $7000 and counting. That is real money. With low interest rates, we can not refinance our homes, we can not sell our homes…… we just wanted to be treated fairly….. and the farmers want to be treated fairly….. Fargo damming and diking causes water to back up. Our point is to tell people in Fargo that built in a flood plain to move. Our area has never flooded and now I can get up to 8 feet of water in my house.

      • all of fargo, west fargo and moorhead IS THE FLOOD PLAIN!!!!!!…..look at the history of Lake aggasiz……so your saying move the entire downtown historic district and pretty much all of fargo…..? yea….real reasonable solution

        i completely agree that you don’t develop a flood plain…..lil late for that wouldn’t ya say? you don’t move, you just deal with your own problem in your own site-specific solution. even flood-proofing your own house is a hell of a lot cheaper then refi or selling….take the personal initiative

  2. What I think is funny is that the people of Cass County didn’t say much when Wahpeton and Breckenridge did their flood protection. I heard that their flood protection impacts us about 1-2 feet here in Fargo. The bottom line is if Fargo gets a diversion it will impact some people. My thought is if the diversion helps 50,000 people but hurts 100 people, its well worth it. Not everyone is going to be happy. The reason this doesn’t get done is that there is so much whining going on and its getting ridiculous.

    • So lets push the line for the start of the diversion right up to davies high school!! That would decrease how far south the backed up water would extend south. Oh….wait…….that would mean fargo wouldn’t be able to continue developing south. *Gasp*!! Nevermind, future residential development is FAR more important than saving these dinky communities south of town that support 1/3 of a school districts tax base and have been developed for over 120 years…..Ya, scratch that logical idea. Bottomline: Fargo isn’t sacrificing enough of there own skin for this project.

      • Well, if it wasn’t for Fargo, your “dinky communities” would not exist…so who should give up what and how much..think about it!!

        • “who should give up what and how much”???
          What is Fargo giving up? “dinky communities” have supported and helped build Fargo for many years. One of Fargo’s strengths is the rural area. It would not be where it is today without the support of the “dinky communities”. Time for Fargo to sacrifice and realize it made a mistake by allowing construction in the lowest part of a drain.

        • Joe B, maybe you should go talk to the Breckenridge mayor. At the meeting last night he stated, directly to the Corp, that when the Wahpeton/Breckenridge diversion was built the Corp told him there would be minimal to zero impacts downstream. Really?? The same Corp who plans on building this diversion?? Don’t be pointing fingers before you know who they really should be pointed at.

        • With out Fargo Our dinky communities would probably still have their own stores and businesses that have been driven out of Buisness from all the big box stores.

          Build a stystem like grand forks with green ways thru the city of Fargo.

    • The small Breckenridge diversion has NO impact on Fargo. Your mayor & engineer (city mgr) have confirmed that. You may want to check your source of information relating to this 1′ – 2′ claim.

  3. just clean out the river check and see what happen since fargo filled it in with rocks, pull the dam and rocks out and clean it out the rest of the way and guess what we have found 8 extra feet of river depth and now we are talking 37 ft instead of 42 ft, i thought that the army core was doing this to protect people then they need to protect everyone not just Fargo Fargo.

  4. To Mr. Skjonsby,

    I’m tired of people blaming the floding on farmers when they have no clue how field drainage works. First off, most drainage only drains small low spots in fields. Second, if you want farmers to plug drains to make things like it was in the 30′s, maybe we should take all the man made roads and highways out that block natural drainage. All the water would have a clear shot to rivers and streams like it use to be 100 years ago. Roads cause farmers to have to drain a full section of water into just a few culverts in the corners of a mile line.
    I hope this isn’t too complicated for you to understand Mr. Skjonsby.

    Quit blaming flooding on rural people when you are building your home or business next to the Red River.

    • pretty sure 95% of the flooding is in rural farm land north and south of fargo….the acreage affected within the city limits is minuscule in comparison. If the politics weren’t in the way I would completely develop the river bank from 52nd ave. south all the way to north fargo littered with homes!!!!….successfully, beautifully, and cheaper than any of your cookie cutter homes this town seems to ADORE. the river bank lined with dwellings and not one of them needs flood insurance….hmmmm not on stilts or behind a concrete wall….hmmmm…. its not the homes and businesses next to river that are the problem….its the people content sandbagging instead of taking personal initiative in a non-temporal way to protect their property…..once again people….google “cloud house fargo” then think……

  5. After the Breckenridge ditch was dug. Here in Abercrombie the water comes faster and about a foot more. I seem to remember the Corp’s spokesman saying we would see no effect on river level. So thats why we now have dike on the northeast side of town now. If the corp sez one thing add a foot or two to it you mite be closer to reality. Take a drive some day and follow the Wild Rice it headwater south west of Rutland ND. There is a lot of places to store water along the way. Fargo Needs Protection but in North Dakota people work together to solve problems! Now I will be on Denny’s list for my comments but so be it. WORK TOGETHER DENNY ITS THE NORTH DAKOTA WAY.

    • Made enough sense to me…and it was a far more constructive comment than trolling about spelling.

      I agree, though. I know the Corps is up to their neck in regulations and feasibility requirements, but you’d think they/Fargo would be willing to show a good faith effort to explore other alternatives or a combination of both.

  6. When you have thousands of acres of cement in Fargo that used to absorb water you are going to flood. Cement does not absorb water. Make a big Lake south of Fargo and pump it out in the fall

  7. I never understood the save 50,000 people at the expense of a hundred. In what flood was every resident of Fargo/Moorhead directly effected? Realisticly you are closer to save 1,000 at the expense of 100. That still can be considered noble except that there are more than 100 people in Oxbow alone whose city could be wiped off the map completely. Fargo is a big city with a lot of people, but I have lived here through major floods and never saw water on my front porch, but have driven through water to get to my parents farm to swing 24 hour shifts watching pumps and leaks in a dike just to keep from losing a house. Don’t hide behind numbers, remember real people are effected by this. It is not redicoulous for us to want to keep our rural homes that we shed blood sweat and tears to own.

  8. I have lived along the Red River most of my life. Where we currently live has never had a drop of water on it even in the worst floods. Now with the proposed Dam we are in the storage area that will now put water on my property in years of a bad flood. I have attended a bunch of flood meetings and hear the same crap over and over from these guys. Preparing for a 500 year event when we have not even seen a 100 year event is foolish. They can’t even tell you what a 500 year event is because there has never been one.The bottom line is, this is being done to create more buildable land south of Fargo and take many acres out of the established flood plain. A lot of the Fargo residents who currently do have to carry flood insurance would not have to carry flood insurance and these clowns, city officials, will look like heros to them. In the beginning of this the corp proposed the best plan to achieve these goals was a MN diversion. That is what they thought was the most cost effective, etc. to do. But, the Fargo city officials wanted the proposed current plan. Really easy to see the motive behind this whole mess.
    Bottom line is my family and I go out of our way now not to spend money in Fargo. I don’t want 1 penny of my hard earned $$ to go to this. Bought a new vehicle and went to MN to do so. Bought a household appliance so we went to DL. Hope everyone else does the same.

  9. This is cold but it needs to be said;
    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
    The many have more votes and pay more taxes than the few.
    Sorry Folks that live in the effected areas, you picked the wrong place to live.
    You live in an area that has the least amount of economic impact in a worst case scenario. Go ahead and fight the good fight if it makes you feel better. You’re just putting off the inevitable. I know, it’s terrible. Obviously, I’m not a politician.

    • If it is true that the needs of many out weigh the needs of few, why not gut out the “few” homes and businesses who have built along the river and do what Wahpeton/Breck did or what Grand Forks did? The almighty FM area has turned their back on the rural areas who have helped build Fargo to what it is today. I understand Fargo is more than just a farming community but there are many jobs and businesses that are ag related. Let’s take out everything agriculture related out of the FM area and see how strong the mighty city would have gotten to over the years. Just to name a few: Case IH, John Deere, American Crystal, pickup dealers, truck dealers, hardware stores, even NDSU which was originally an AG school wouldn’t be the same without the rural community. That’s just a few businesses that have ag related services. It appears the leaders of FM have put blinders on and don’t care about the simple people who live beyond their borders.

      • And at least 9 years out of 10 guess what’s going to be happening in the overflow zone. Farmers are going to be raising crops and doing business just like they always have.

  10. So it’s less than a dozen houses v. billions of dollars of infrastructure and 100,000 citizens. It’s time to tell these folks in the nicest possible way “here’s a check for your trouble now go pound sand.”

    • Less than a dozen houses? Billions of infrastructure? Guess I didn’t have the facts like some of the blinded followers of the the Mayor and his group of anti- rural leaders.

      • sorry seaofstories, i may have taken your comment the wrong way. Not sure what you were trying to say.

  11. thanks to ruralsupporter for the history lesson that I did not need. We’re not talking about the past, we are talking about the future. Seaofstories sums it up. There is no politician in the FM area that is going to stand up in public and tell the 100,000+ people of FM that we should not be protected because the people south of the river don’t want to move and be nostalgic. The politicians’ replacement would. The tragedy would be to tie this up in court for ten years then start the project which will take ten years anyway while all the time being vulnerable. Folks, it’s gonna happen. Let’s build it sooner than later cause it will be cheaper.

    • Mark, (heartless man)
      I’m not sure who made the comment that Fargo should not be protected. You are spinning things to sound different than what was intended. Wonder where you learned that? ( Fargo leaders)
      I feel Fargo is not exploring all avenues of protection and are too focused on the one thing that will hurt alot of people except thermselves. Everyone needs to sacrifice, Fargo included.

      By the way Mark, what exactly are you sacrificing for the better of the mighty FM area? Is it your home, business, livelihood, family history? Just wondering.

      • I’m not unsympathetic to the sacrifices involved here. But aren’t they same for everyone in the flood plain? Everyone’s home, business, livelihood and family history are on the line here in Fargo, North of Fargo and South of Fargo.

        ruralsupporter, I don’t know what you’d like to see done. Should they move the diversion 15 feet north so that nine houses in south fargo are also in the overflow zone? Those 15 feet wouldn’t change anything for property owners in northern Richland or Wilkin County and it would only raise the cost of the project but perhaps it be more fair.

        Should they abandon this plan and go back to a larger diversion capacity and flood out a bunch more people north of town instead. Would people feel better about that?

  12. Lake Wolvertine here we come.That plus Dredge across every other Oxbow and use the Fill to surround the Lake.Think of the recreational possibilities.if theres enough dirt left over build Wolverton Mounton.

  13. Nobody is debating the need for a plan. The problem is that Fargo, like it has been said before is putting land that they want to develop before land it does not own, at the expense of the people who own that land. I support a project but would love to see something other than a complete and unresearched dissmissal of rural concerns. For Fargo residents that have been attacking supporters, are your homes currently in an area that floods?

    • It looks like there’s less than 10 square miles of land there North of the diversion that hasn’t been developed already and hasn’t the city also expressed its preference for limiting southward expansion because of the strain it places on infrastructure by stretching out the city too narrowly?

  14. Nobody has come up with a plan that does not screw over the people that live outside the FM area. Move it here, move it there, it does not matter. If someone would come up with a plan that does not displace any people north, south, whatever, I’m all for it. My point is FM needs to be protected because that’s where the money, the votes, the economy is. Flooding several townships would not have half the economic impact having downtown FM flooded. Ask Grand Forks. Ask Minot. I’m thinking just the money that will be needed to recover in Minot from flooding last summer could buy every rural property needed for any kind of holding area. Would make a great recreational area too. I’m not a heartless man, I’m just saying what I think most people are thinking in FM.

    • Did Grand Forks build a diversion to solve their problem or did they let the Red River run through town where it is suppose to? I don’t think they went out of their way to upset everyone around them. What is Fargo gonna do when they run their growth up to where the planned diversion is in 50-100 years? If they clean out everything near the river now, they will be able to expand forever without a boundary or diversion.

      • First, its easier to ‘clean out’ everything by the river when it’s already been flooded or burned to the ground. Unlike GF, after their disaster (which took over a decade to recover from), the city of Fargo is still standing. The idea is to protect existing infrastructure instead of needing to rebuild destroyed infrastructure.

        Second, the river runs straighter through GF than Fargo making it easier and less expensive to keep the water in the channel.

        Third, because of the way the geography works, from what I understand, if you keep the water in the channel through Fargo you’re effectively flooding people North of the city just as you would by going with no retention strategy to the south and a larger diversion channel.

        • So if it is less expensive to keep the water in the Grand Forks channel than the Fargo channel, what exactly is the price tag of that option? I’m sure all options have been studied thoroughly before deciding on the plan that benefits Fargo more than everyone else concerned.
          When people say we need to look to the future instead of the past, I agree whole heartedly. Fargo seemed to not be doing that for many years when they built in the bottom of a river basin. Now others have to pay for Fargo’s mistakes. Thanks Fargo.

  15. From the elevation charts, it looks to me like recent floods have been high enough to flood the entire city of Fargo. Are people saying everyone in Fargo was foolish to build there? I don’t understand.

  16. if downtown fargo hasn’t flooded yet who is making the assumption that it will or ever will? In the past 15 years since the 1997 flood the more susceptible areas have been the southwestern areas from overland flooding. Overland flooding has not threatened fargo with a wall of water, it has been stopped many times by temporary dikes. Most farmers have no problem temporarily holding water during spring floods, we are concerned with summer floods. It is ultimately impossible for spring floods to be predicted, avoided, steered, channeled or diverted. Water will go over roads, wash out roads, blow out culverts, overtop berms and and go anywhere else anybody tries to stop it from going. The arrogant leadership of fargo knows this and the army corp certainly knows this. fargo is a great place and i would hate for it be be permanently damaged but the diversion and it’s unthinkable cost is not the answer.

  17. Wait till late april early may for both coverage in the newspaper and on television of a different solution to living in a floodplain. Developed over 6 years during my education at NDSU with no need for a diversion and no pointing fingers. We don’t build a wall and we don’t run away. Open your eyes to possibilities new technologies offer! Every inhabitant of this ancient lake bed has contributed directly and/or indirectly to OUR problem. The politics of this diversion are ridiculous and not helping the greater good of the community! Just one example of a non-conservative mind set would be the “cloud house” which was featured in the Forum. Google it….absorb the underlying idea….god forbid we think outside the box! I am openly challenging anyone to come to my thesis presentation first week in May to debate my proposal…. Sometimes all it takes is that one idea, cradled under the wing of the PEOPLE, not political agendas A strange Idea…? without a doubt YES for an extremely conservative ND. However, a catalyst for those who dare to think outside the box. It is up to the climate generation now