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.
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.
“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.