Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton recently created a stir by calling on the federal government to halt construction of the $1.8 billion Fargo-Moorhead diversion project. The result has been a back and forth dialogue between the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority and the State of Minnesota, which could potentially lead to the Minnesota DNR rescinding its support for the lawsuit filed against the diversion. However, nothing has been finalized yet.
The Diversion Authority’s response to the Governor was to offer a concession of changing the Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke to protect for a 100 year flood instead of a 500 year flood, something the state of Minnesota requested. The DNR said Minnesota state law didn’t allow support for a 500 year flood plan and they were upset construction began on the ring dike before it completed an environmental review.
In response to a letter for Diversion Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo offering the concessions, Governor Dayton sounded a more conciliatory tone this week while making no promises.
“I share your desire to forge a more constructive working relationship between the State of Minnesota and your Authority,” the Governor wrote. Later adding “The Authority's future actions will determine, far more than its words, whether better relations are established with the parties and people who are now estranged from it. I hope that cooperation can be achieved.”
The Governor also said he appreciated the concession on the Oxbow dike but couldn’t take a position on it as the matter is under litigation. The Diversion Authority will take up the matter at a meeting on Oct. 9. Fargo Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney is a member of the Diversion Authority. He says the fact that the Governor is no longer calling for a halt to construction is a victory for his side.
“We also got concessions from him because if you quote stop all the work, that means also stop all design, that means stop trying to figure out what we’re going to do with landowners, stop everything. What we explained to him we don’t really want to stop everything. We have farmers coming us to now asking us to buy their land and we have people who want us to buy their homes,” Mahoney said. “So we had to explain to the Governor, we can’t just stop everything because we do have people that have made requests and in fairness, we still have to address those issues for them.”
Dr. Mahoney hopes the discussion and concessions between Minnesota and the Diversion Authority will lead to more discussions between the Authority and the filers of the lawsuit to stop the diversion, the Wilkin Richland County Joint Powers Authority, a coalition of upstream officials opposed to the diversion.
“We want to work with the opponents to try to come up with (a plan), there’s all sorts of people that are affected by this whole project. So I guess we’d like them to try to figure out what would be worthwhile as a compromise or what could they agree to,” Mahoney replied. “We’re hopeful that the people, they’ve all said before they support a project of some sort and we’re just hopeful that they would like to come forward and have a good discussion where you can try to come to solutions.”
While Governor Dayton’s comments have led to a cooling of the rhetoric between the Diversion Authority and Minnesota, it has not done so yet with the Wilkin Richard County JPA. Wilkin County Authority Timothy Fox said the offer on the Oxbow ring dike to the state of Minnesota is not a concession.
“To say that you are going to go ahead and construct something illegally but you are not going to as bad as you were before. I mean it’s illegal,” Fox said. “It’s part of the diversion project. It always has been a part of the diversion project and they don’t have a permit to do that. So suggesting we’ll only violate the law a little bit, that doesn’t seem right. They should’ve never started the project and they should never done what they did and they went ahead and did it anyway in the dark of the night.”
Fox said the Authority never got permits to start construction in the first place. Short of halting construction on the diversion project, there appears to be no concession that would satisfy him enough to stop the lawsuit.
“From the very beginning, we’ve offered and continued to offer to have conversations with them but we’ve never had any conversations with them because they basically said we’re going to do whatever we’re going to do and that’s why we’re in court,” Fox told HPR.
Mahoney said discussions are being made now about approaching upstream folks but they want them to say what they want.
“We’re trying to figure out who would pick the upstream portion of the talks and come to the table,” Mahoney said “And we’re trying to let them figure that out. We’d rather let them figure out how we want to do this. So we’re trying to give as much choice as possible to let people do it they want they think this is right.”
Fox feels there needs to be a change in tone from the Diversion Authority about ramming the project down outlying communities’ throats.
“If somebody wants to talk about resolving this, that’s one thing, but just telling people that you are stuck with this and this what you are going to have … whether the Richland Wilkin County JPA or whether it’s the Hickson, the residents of Bakke, they don’t want this,” Fox said. “So if they don’t want the flood protection, why call it flood protection and give it to them when they don’t want it?”
The next few months should be telling about whether all sides can come together with a plan that everyone supports.
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