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Peterson: F-M diversion dam likely will be closer to metro area, require upstream and downstream water storage

Rep. Collin Peterson, D.-Minn., speaks to The Forum Editorial Board on Jan. 23, 2018, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 2
Rep. Collin Peterson, D.-Minn., speaks to The Forum Editorial Board on Jan. 23, 2018, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO — Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., predicts the plan that will emerge from discussions to revamp the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project will include water storage north and south of F-M in order to mitigate impacts, both downstream and upstream.

Minnesota's 7th District congressman also predicted the flood project's dam will be located closer to the city limits, which will affect more properties — and he believes the price tag could reach $4 billion, much higher than the $2.2 billion estimated.

The effort to reach consensus on a project that can get a permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources began with a task force assembled by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum after a federal judge put the original project on hold in the face of a legal challenge from upstream opponents, a case joined by the DNR.

The task force issued its recommendations last week, and now the work continues with a technical group that will craft a conceptual plan that will need to be reviewed by engineers. Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney predicted a plan could come together in a month, but Peterson believes it will take longer.

"They're making progress," he said of the group. "They're not there yet. We want to make this work. We're trying not to screw this up."

Peterson's remarks came in a meeting with The Forum Editorial Board on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

In order to reduce upstream impacts along the Red River, which sparked stiff opposition from North Dakota's Richland County and Minnesota's Wilkin County, the dam to temporarily impound water will have to move further downstream, closer to Fargo-Moorhead.

"When you move it, you're impacting properties," Peterson said, noting areas closer to the metro are more developed than farmland farther south. The compromise plan also requires moving more water along the Red River through Fargo-Moorhead, which will increase downstream impacts.

That is prompting a search for locations north of the metro area to store water to control downstream releases in addition to impoundment already planned south of Fargo-Moorhead.

If the cost is more than 20 percent higher than the project that was authorized by Congress, Peterson believes a redesigned project still would win congressional favor.

"I think it can be reauthorized," he said.

Delays will likely increase the project's cost, and neither Peterson nor the DNR's top official for evaluating water projects could offer an estimate about when a revised plan will be ready.

"I hope we get this done," Peterson said. "The longer it goes, the more it's going to cost."

Kent Lokkesmoe, who administers the DNR's management resources bureau, said the technical group's recommendations are general and will need to be vetted by engineers.

"What we're doing is more conceptual," he said, and will have to take into account soil conditions and engineering constraints. "This isn't by any means a final design."

There is some talk of bringing together the Diversion Authority, the DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers, which designed the original diversion, as well as Richland and Wilkin county representatives, Lokkesmoe said.

The discussion would center on how the technical advisory group could continue. Not all of the task force's options have been fully explored, he said.

"Could all of this be done in a month?" Lokkesmoe said. "That's probably optimistic. It might be possible."

Although Minnesota hasn't approved a "high-hazard" dam in many years, there is nothing in Minnesota law that prohibits such approvals, he said. In fact, Lokkesmoe added, Minnesota has in the past approved high-hazard dams in the Rochester and Iron Range areas.

"The price tag is a concern," Lokkesmoe said of a revised diversion plan. "It certainly is a concern of the Diversion Authority."

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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