Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are studying whether to move the channel farther west around West Fargo in order to overcome a “technically challenging area.”
A western alignment, originally more favorable to West Fargo but not the Army Corps, was taken off the table in the corps’ final feasibility study published last summer.
But new analysis gained in the year since is forcing a closer look at an alternative route, corps project manager Aaron Snyder said Thursday.
In determining a final alignment for the 35-mile diversion channel, “we look at ways where we can add values or places with technical complications that’s too much to overcome,” Snyder said.
Near West Fargo, the complication lies at the channel’s proposed crossing at Interstate 94, but any changes to the alignment won’t be revealed for a couple months yet.
Initial designs would tie the Red River diversion into the existing Sheyenne Diversion channel just north of I-94 and forge the same – but wider – path as the southern-leg of the Sheyenne diversion.
However, state transportation officials say the Red River diversion – slated to be a half-mile wide in some areas – won’t fit at the planned crossing west of West Fargo’s Main Avenue interchange.
To accommodate that barrier, Snyder said the corps is looking at moving the crossing to the west side of the Raymond Township interchange, which is exit 342 on I-94.
That move – at least a half-mile west of the proposed crossing – could mean further alterations to the channel’s alignment in that area.
For instance, depending on the revised path, the Red River diversion might not tie into the Sheyenne Diversion, Snyder said.
“We’re considering how difficult it would be to construct,” Snyder said. “If it’s not technically feasible, then we would adjust. If it is, then we’re fine.”
Snyder said the corps should have a tentative alignment available in June, but it’s unclear yet how drastic any changes might be.
If the revisions are significant, it might require further study of environmental impacts, he said.
West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said he’s aware of the corps’ analysis, but he’s “certainly not going to hold my breath” that the corps will move the channel westward.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Mattern said. “It does sound like a positive development, but I’ve just decided I’m going to step back and let what happens happen. There’s only so much push you can do.”
Last year, West Fargo advocated for moving the Red River diversion one mile west of the Sheyenne diversion, which would allow the booming suburb more room to grow.
The corps had said in its feasibility study that a western alignment wasn’t as technically advantageous or efficient as tying into the existing Sheyenne Diversion.
The corps’ renewed look at the alignment there comes as part of a broader effort to shore up the Red River diversion’s final path between the Maple and the Sheyenne rivers.
In December, the corps unveiled the final alignment north of the Maple River to the diversion’s outlet north of Argusville.
That altered path removed several sharp bends in favor of a more sweeping curve south and west.
The changes shaved off nearly a mile of the channel, which saved about $80 million in construction, mitigation and future operational costs.
Snyder mentioned the corps’ consideration of an alignment change near West Fargo as part of an update he gave Thursday to the F-M Diversion Authority’s Executive Leadership Council.
After holding its first meeting behind closed doors, the council decided to make its second gathering open to the public.
The decision came after The Forum published a story on Wednesday raising questions about whether the council is working on behalf of the Diversion Authority and therefore should be subject to North Dakota’s open meetings law.
Local media was allowed to attend the teleconference Thursday between local officials and the corps’ top district leaders in St. Paul.
Officials discussed ongoing design work and their priorities for the months ahead. The council took no action and made no recommendations.
The board agreed to meet quarterly, except when special meetings might be needed to make determinations on technical or design issues that engineering staff can’t resolve.