ND, Minn. flood diversion litigants pause lawsuit while task force seeks compromise
FARGO — All parties to the federal lawsuit against the $2.2 billion Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion have agreed to put the suit on pause while a bi-state task force tries to hammer out a compromise, the Diversion Authority said Friday, Nov. 3.
These parties include the authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as defendants and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority as plaintiffs.
The idea is to give the task force formed by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton time to do its work without the distraction of ongoing litigation, the authority said.
Members of the Diversion Authority had agreed Thursday, Nov. 2, in a closed-door session to make this move as well as file an appeal of a preliminary injunction now stopping the project and immediately putting that on pause. The deadline for the appeal is Monday, Nov. 6, but the task force isn't scheduled to complete its work until Dec. 15.
Tim Mahoney, Fargo's mayor and the authority's chairman, said after the Thursday meeting he couldn't talk about what happened until attorneys from all parties had conferred.
"I am very encouraged by the Governors' leadership with the Task Force and I have faith Gov. Burgum, Gov. Dayton and the Task Force will help us quickly find a solution to the flooding issues Fargo and Moorhead face," Mahoney said in a statement Friday. "By immediately staying the appeal, we avoid waiving our legal rights without actively litigating the case in court, and most importantly, we do not undermine the Governors' progress."
Burgum and Dayton had said earlier that Minnesota would not object to the filing of an appeal if a stay on that appeal was also requested.
"I am really optimistic with the progress being made and am hopeful our future efforts on the task force will find resolution to the flood risk we face. I think Governor Dayton said it best when he said 'failure is not an option,'" said Del Rae Williams, Moorhead's mayor and the authority's vice chairwoman. "I was pleased the Governors were able to provide a path forward in the charter to make sure that the Task Force can focus its efforts on finding a solution and not get sidetracked by litigation."
The authority and the corps are working to build a diversion channel and dam on the Red River to reduce the risk of flooding in Fargo-Moorhead, but the DNR and upstream opponents say the dam would violate Minnesota laws and policies.
U.S. District Judge John Tunheim agreed that the plaintiffs had a chance of winning and issued an injunction to prevent further progress on the project.