DIVERSION DISCUSSION: North Dakota’s GOP candidates weigh in on F-M project (Part 1 of 2)

FARGO – North Dakota Republicans endorse their candidates in this year’s state and federal races next weekend in Bismarck.

GOP delegates will be deciding contested nominations for the top races, and if elected, those individuals will also play a major role in future efforts on the Red River diversion project.

As with the Democratic candidates last weekend, I asked all Republican congressional and gubernatorial candidates to share their thoughts on the plan for Fargo-Moorhead flood protection.

But because there are so many candidates – 10 in all – I’m reporting their answers today and next Sunday.

The endorsed U.S. House candidate will be chosen one week from today, so look for those six candidates’ answers next week.

Here are the Republican gubernatorial and Senate candidates’ answers, in their own words.

Candidate for governor

On the current plan:

Jack Dalrymple

I believe that the Fargo area does need better flood protection. I don’t think there’s any question about that. … They do need better protection, but at the same time, we have to keep in mind that there are a lot for people who feel that they will be harmed by the project in the upstream areas. The project is going to need significant modifications before it will be acceptable.

Worst-case scenario: If the project can’t be changed to alleviate the upstream impacts, would you support it?

I think that they can be changed. What we have to keep in mind is that the project sponsors – which are Cass County and Fargo – had to make a proposal to the federal government in order to get in line for approval and for funding.

That record of decision is still pending, and so the project can’t be changed until we get through this preliminary phase, but as soon as the record of decision comes out, then modifications are possible and that would be the time to go to work on that.

I don’t think there’s any question that modifications are needed, and I think they will happen.

How much state funding would you support spending for the project?

The exact number is really not knowable at this point in time, because we don’t know the final scope and the final design of the project, so we’re really not there yet. But very early on, the state indicated its support for flood control in Fargo, and we said that we’d be there for half of the non-federal, non-Minnesota share of the project. That is still just a formula. It doesn’t really tell you anything until we know exactly what the project is.

How do you balance the state’s funding needs with Fargo needing flood protection and the infrastructure demands in the Oil Patch?

I don’t think they’re necessarily mutually exclusive at all. I think both of these challenges can be dealt with because our state is in good shape financially. … We do have revenue dedicated to both flood control and also to infrastructure investments like they need out west. I’m confident that over time, we can take care of all these challenges, because we will have the resources to do that.

Candidate for governor

On the current plan:

Paul Sorum

It’s not a solution; the price tag is too high. The real solution is to retain water upstream, namely east and west of the Red River Valley, and have a system of controls to release that water when we can handle it.

We don’t have to retain 100 percent of that water, but just enough of it to avoid the extremely high flood levels we’ve experienced these past years.

That’s the only solution possible. … The idea that we’re going to dig a real big ditch around the city of Fargo is not a solution to the volume of water that’s collecting at the bottom of the Red River Valley. It’s just not going to help, and most people know that.

There needs to be leadership. We’ve spent money on design that we knew wouldn’t work, and where’s the leadership on issues like this in this state?

Given your opposition: If you’re elected, what would you do to change the path that we’re on?

It has to change, because it won’t work and it’s too expensive. We’re going to be eating up a large number of acres that are some of the premier farming land in the world. It’s a disaster. There’s no leadership to say, “Let’s come up with a better plan.” … I say, let’s work with (engineers) to put in place over time a system of retainage upstream. Let’s do something realistic that not only helps us in a time of flood; it should help us in a time of drought.

Candidate for U.S. Senate

On the current plan:

Rick Berg

I am encouraged by efforts to move forward a permanent flood protection plan for the Fargo-Moorhead region. Without permanent flood protection, families and businesses in this region will continue to battle regular flooding – not only burdening our residents, local leaders and volunteers, but also having a detrimental effect on the region’s long-term economic stability. … That said, the project’s impact on upstream communities must also continue to be considered. … As clear as it is that the Fargo-Moorhead region needs protection from future flooding, it is equally clear that the solution must be one that all can live with.

We have a responsibility to do everything possible to reduce the impact of this project on upstream communities. Continued communication between all parties involved in this project must remain a top priority.

Worst-case scenario: If the project can’t be changed to alleviate the upstream impacts, would you support it?

I’m confident that residents and local officials, along with state and federal leaders, can work together to come up with a solution that we can all live with.

As I’ve said, we all have a responsibility to come together and work toward a solution that provides needed long-term flood protection, while also reducing the impact on communities like Oxbow. I believe a solution can be found.

If elected to Congress, how would you advocate for the dollars needed to build the project?

We’ve already had a lot of success here. While the president’s recent budget did not include the full amount of funding requested by senators Kent Conrad and John Hoeven and myself, the inclusion of this project in the proposal does demonstrate that this project is a priority for the Army Corps of Engineers, which will help keep this project moving forward.

… I believe long-term flood protection for the Fargo-Moorhead region, as well as disaster relief for all North Dakota communities affected by recent flooding, should remain a top priority, and I am committed to continuing to work with House and Senate leaders to give North Dakota the support it needs.

If Congress continues its ban on earmarks, how would you see dollars secured for the project?

Long-term flood protection for the Fargo-Moorhead region is in the interest of our region and our nation, and I will work to ensure that this project remains a priority. … Once authorized for construction, we can then work within the appropriations process to get the needed funding to the project.


Candidate for U.S. Senate

On the current plan:

Duane Sand

I’m not a fan of this diversion. I’m not a fan of taking some of the most productive ag land out of production to build a ditch with money we have to borrow.

I’ve been in the Navy 26 years, and I’ve been around the world. I’ve seen dredging change the flow of oceans.

There’s already a big ditch in Fargo; it’s called the Red River. In my opinion, I still think the federal government has a role, but it would be a better use of taxpayers’ dollars to dredge the Red River and increase the storage capacity in that manner.

I’ve seen it done, and from what I know, I don’t think that’s been given adequate consideration. … I‘ve just never been a fan of this. We have to solve the problem, but I don’t think solving the problem is in the best interest of taxpayers by digging a ditch around Fargo.

Given your opposition: If you’re elected, what would you do to change the path that we’re on?

I’ll bring whatever federal resources are available to bring to fight the battle. In this case, the battle is flooding. … But if this is the road we’re already going down, we either need to get it funded and get it done and find another way.

If I’m elected, I will review all the proposals. As an engineer, I will review them with a lot more knowledge and experience that other candidates do not have. … I’ll support it if it’s the best way to solve the problem, but I really still don’t think it is.

Have a question about the proposed Red River diversion, or want to recommend a topic you’d like to see addressed in an upcoming column?
Send an e-mail to Forum reporter Kristen Daum at kdaum@forumcomm.com (Subject: Diversion Discussion) or write to Kristen Daum c/o The Forum, P.O. Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
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