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Red River diversion work moving ahead, despite Dayton's request

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The chairman of the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority says work on the first phase of a flood control project on the Red River will move forward, despite Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's request that it stop until an environmental review is complete.

Darrel Vanyo tells KFGO work on a ring levee around three North Dakota communities will proceed. Vanyo tells the radio station he was surprised by Dayton's letter to the Army last week, asking the Corps of Engineers to stop issuing permits and providing construction help for the first stage of the $1.8 billion flood diversion project.

Valley News Live reports Dayton called it unacceptable that federal funding should be appropriated for the project before Minnesota's environmental review is complete.

The FM Diversion Authority Monitor, a group opposed to the project, posted the full text of Dayton's letter to the assistant secretary of the Army in charge of civil works.

Dayton writes that, since Moorhead is already well protected from floods on the Red River, more than 90 percent of the diversion project's benefits would fall on the Fargo side of the river, specifically real estate developers eyeing currently unused floodplain land. Dayton says the project would flood Minnesota and North Dakota farmland to safeguard the investments of developers.

The Diversion Authority's position is that the levees being built around the towns of Oxbow, Hickson, and Bakke will have no impact on Minnesota. A report released by the Army Corps of Engineers nearly a year ago found no significant environmental impacts.

The Red River Valley is a low-lying basin that was once home to a glacial lake and is prone to annual floods.

The staging area and the Oxbow dike

The flood diversion project authorized by Congress and President Obama in June would allow Red River floodwaters to collect on 32,000 acres south of Fargo. From there the water would be funneled into a 36-mile channel to divert it around the Fargo-Moorhead area.

The three North Dakota cities lie within those 32,000 acres, which are called a staging area.

Plans call for building the ring levee around Oxbow, Hickson, and Bakke in three stages. Work on the first part began in late June and Forum News Service noted at the time that it happened with little fanfare and no ceremonial golden shovels.

Perhaps that's because the Diversion Authority knew the work would not sit well with Minnesota. In an exchange of letters with the mayor of Oxbow in April, Minnesota's Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resource, Tom Landwehr, wrote that state law requires an environment impact statement before Minnesota can issue a high-hazard dam permit. The flood diversion project requires such a permit and Minnesota's EIS is still underway.

Lawsuits

Opposition to the diversion project is centered in Richland County, North Dakota, and Wilkin County, Minnesota, which filed a federal lawsuit to stop the diversion last year.

A Joint Powers Authority of the two counties filed a second suit in June, challenging the construction of the Oxbow ring levee on behalf of Minnesota. Joint Powers Authority Chairman Perry Miller told the Wahpeton Daily News then:

"I don't think we have a choice. We have an entity, the Diversion Authority, that thumbs their nose at the law and have done the same to those of us upstream."

The Minnesota lawsuit cites the loss of prime farmland and the interruption of natural hydrology as reasons the diversion would devastate Wilkin County, the Daily News reports.

Earlier this month U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim allowed Minnesota to join the federal suit. Tunheim also ruled the state lawsuit should be frozen until a decision is made on the federal one, Forum News Service reports.

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