Rogne: Cutting the lifeline
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has cut the last lifeline to the F-M Diversion Project. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr had agreed to meet with technical staffers of the Diversion Authority to try and come up with a Plan B to the current project. His condition was that construction on the current plan not go forward until it complied with Minnesota law. In a letter last week to Fargo Mayor and Diversion Authority Chairman Tim Mahoney, Landwehr stated that the DA's action, "is beyond bad faith; indeed, the continuation of construction is an insult to collaboration."
The DA and Army Corps have accelerated construction on an inlet structure for a diversion channel south of Horace, N.D., including closing a major transportation route. The letter also cites ongoing legal actions between the DA and the DNR. The DA has filed a contested case against Minnesota's denial of the dam safety and public waters permits. Secondly, there is a federal case filed by Minnesota and the Richland Wilkin Joint Powers Authority to stop the DA and the Army Corps from proceeding with construction. Oral arguments before Federal Judge John Tunheim are scheduled for later this month.
Landwehr says the "DA's overall strategy appears designed to prolong the litigation, obfuscate the issues, and maximize costs to the State." Among other things, he says, "your counsel represented...that the Diversion Authority never applied for a dam safety and work in public waters permit...and was simply seeking the DNR's 'advice' about the project. This, despite the fact that the Diversion Authority submitted a permit application along with a permit application fee and had numerous meetings with my staff about the necessary permit and permit requirements." The stumbling block and conflict between the DA and Minnesota DNR is not flood protection for Fargo and Moorhead. It's Fargo's desire to develop the floodplain south of town. The DA rejected the Army Corps recommendation to build a simple diversion, and instead doubled the project's size, requiring a dam that would flood 50,000 acres upstream. The choice was made to roll the dice on Minnesota's approval of a dam, in return for giving developers and home builders a chance at 20,000 acres that are currently in the floodplain. The DA knew the DNR hadn't permitted a dam in 30 years.
Landwehr highlights that point in the closing of his letter. He says, "I have instructed my staff to put all further work on hold, until such a time as the circumstances are more favorable to a genuine discussion of a Plan B alternative that can both meet Minnesota standards and provide meaningful improvements in permanent flood protection for the developed portions of the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area."
Minnesota seems willing to find a way to protect homes and businesses at risk to flooding. But Landwehr makes it clear that state laws prohibit flood plain development, making it impossible for them to permit the current plan.
Rogne wrote this piece with other members of the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority editorial team.