DIVERSION DISCUSSION: Legislative debate looming in 2013 over F-M diversion funding

FARGO – Fargo-Moorhead diversion officials plan to make another pitch in 2013 for more state funding for the Red River diversion project, but the effort might not be as easy as local officials would hope for.

The opposition movement against the $1.8 billion project has the support of rural lawmakers in southeastern North Dakota, who say they’re hopeful they can gain allies in other rural districts statewide.

If such a coalition came to fruition, the effort could be enough to stop – or at least diminish – the flow of state dollars toward the current diversion plan.

Parts of Fargo and West Fargo span 10 of the state’s 47 legislative districts. That representation accounts for 30 of the state’s 141 lawmakers, or about 20 percent of the Legislature.

So without significant rural support, Fargo officials will have difficulty securing the continued state funding they desire.

Speaking before a crowd of 250 rural residents and government leaders gathered in Christine, N.D., on Monday night, two rural legislators pledged to fight Fargo’s efforts for continued state funding.

“We need them to get that protection, but not at our expense,” said Sen. Larry Luick, R-Fairmont. “I will be fighting tooth and nail for this to get stopped.”

Luick’s district includes two southeastern Cass County townships, the city of Oxbow and eastern Richland County – areas that will be impacted by a proposed temporary water storage area south of the diversion project.

Luick and Jim Dotzenrod, D-Wyndmere, said they support alternative solutions – such as retention – that ought to negate the need for impacts on rural communities south of Fargo-Moorhead.

“We will make the argument in the Legislature, when the time comes, that the money in the state should be used in the right way,” Dotzenrod said. “We don’t support constructing a dam.”

Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple has long said he wants to see changes made to the project to lessen the impact on rural communities, but he’s stopped short of saying he’d support cutting off Fargo’s funding stream if such changes aren’t made.

“I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about at all,” Dalrymple told The Forum last week.

He emphasized that the diversion project is a local decision, which the state has pledged to support.

“Fargo still needs permanent flood control. A diversion is part of that solution, and the state is still committed to helping make that happen, but we do need to find answers to these issues that come up,” Dalrymple said. “I think people have made it clear that changes can be made and changes will be made to the project – that’s what we’re working toward.”

Over the 2009 and 2011 sessions, the North Dakota Legislature appropriated $75 million to “Fargo flood control project funding.”

The money has been used in part to help pay for Red River diversion feasibility studies and some initial design work. The balance has been spent by Fargo officials on localized flood protection projects within the city.

While the North Dakota Legislature has given some initial dollars toward planning the Red River diversion, there’s been no debate about the merits of the project itself, Dotzenrod said.

“But we are looking forward to that time,” he added. “You’re going to find a number of legislators opposed to what this project has developed in to.”

Preparing for the 2013 legislative session, Fargo and Cass County leaders on the Diversion Authority board said they intend to seek further appropriations to help fund continued work on the metro project.

“We’ve had discussions with key legislators and we’ll continue to crank those up,” Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral said earlier this month.

Zavoral said officials are planning an open house, possibly in December, to update state lawmakers on the diversion’s progress.


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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