Due to likely pre-election gridlock, diversion lobbying may halt until fall

FARGO – Facing the unlikelihood of congressional authorization this year, local leaders want to suspend their lobbying efforts for the Red River diversion project until at least October.

The recommendation Monday from the Diversion Authority’s finance committee would save about $90,000 over the next six months.

The decision is subject to approval of the full diversion board, which meets Thursday.

Since last summer, the D.C.-based Podesta Group has lobbied on behalf of the Diversion Authority for federal funding and support of a Red River diversion. The firm’s services cost $15,000 a month.

Fargo Administrator Pat Zavoral said one of the most significant results of the firm’s efforts came last September, when Minnesota’s and North Dakota’s congressional delegations sent a joint letter to President Obama.

“They did a lot of legwork to get all the Minnesota and North Dakota delegations to sign that letter,” Zavoral said.

The six members of Congress from both states all support the Red River diversion plans. In the letter last fall, they asked Obama to include $30 million toward the F-M project in his 2013 budget.

Obama’s final proposal, released in February, included only a fraction of that request – $5 million – to fund ongoing design work for the next fiscal year.

With at least that interim funding secured and the project approved by the Corps, local leaders now await congressional authorization.

But since Congress isn’t likely to take up such legislation before the November election, local officials say the lobbying services aren’t needed between now and then.

“It seems like an awful lot of money to have them at our beck and call when we don’t need them,” Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt said.

The finance committee members plan to revisit their decision in the fall, when they could potentially resume the lobbying services.