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Downstream protection OK'd

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota House voted to protect Red River Valley residents downstream from a proposed Fargo-Moorhead flood-prevention project, saying they should not face worse flooding just to protect the river's largest metropolitan area.

The Red River amendment to the public works bill would forbid the state from spending money on a Fargo-Moorhead diversion unless the U.S. Corps of Engineers takes steps to prevent flooding downstream.

Organizations supporting a diversion already say they want to prevent further problems downstream, Rep Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said.

"It might be too restrictive," Marquart said about the Eken amendment.

At a committee hearing last week, Hendrum Mayor Curt Johannsen delivered an emotional plea to protect downstream communities. He said his town could be an island for weeks if flooding is made worse by a diversion. The bonding bill also includes $50 million for flood prevention around Minnesota, mostly in the Red River area.

That is the same as Pawlenty suggests, but $20 million short of what the Senate voted to spend.

The overall bill spends money on colleges, trails, transportation and other construction projects. The only major financial change in the measure Monday came when representatives voted 114-19 to spend $89 million to build a 400-bed addition to the Moose Lake sex offender treatment center.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty insisted on the sex offender facility, and Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, offered an amendment to include it. A Senate-passed bill contains $1 million for the facility, something Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, called a placeholder so the topic could be discussed later.

The House and Senate bills are headed to a conference committee that is to work out differences between what the two chambers passed. They each spend about $1 billion. However, Pawlenty wants to spend no more than $685 million, and on Monday said he would either veto individual projects or kill the entire bill if lawmakers send him a bill he deems too big.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.