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Cass, West Fargo discuss diversion

The alignment and payment methods for a proposed North Dakota diversion for the Red River weighed heavily in a discussion Monday night among Cass County officials and West Fargo city leaders and residents.

The meeting was the third among six that Cass County officials have scheduled with area communities to address questions about the project.

West Fargo officials again voiced a desire for the diversion to be built farther west and not tie into the existing Sheyenne River Diversion as current plans call for.

Although the city would be better protected with the North Dakota diversion, West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said it's "a tough sell" convincing residents of the benefits to the project when most believe the city is already well-protected against flooding.

"I think it's more palatable when you talk about moving it farther west," Mattern said, adding that the city would stand to gain much developable land for expansion and growth.

Cass County Commissioner Scott Wagner said he supports West Fargo's position and agrees that an alignment farther west is the right idea.

"We need to advocate for long-term interests," Wagner said. "Keeping communities intact and long-term economic viability is critical to the importance of this project."

Meanwhile, some rural West Fargo landowners were upset with the current path for the 36-mile diversion channel, which would cross through their properties.

"If you stay with this plan, you wipe out 31 years of my life," resident Sandra Mark said.

Jeff Volk of Moore Engineering cautioned that the final alignment of the diversion wouldn't be decided until this fall at the earliest.

Cass County commissioners welcomed further public input meetings in West Fargo to address residents' concerns.

About 40 residents and other local officials attended the meeting, with some also voicing concerns about how West Fargo residents might have to help pay for the nearly $1.3 billion project.

Cass County officials are mulling whether the best way to pay for the local share would be through a sales tax, special assessments, a loan from the Bank of North Dakota, or a combination of the three.

West Fargo leaders reiterated that residents would likely be more supportive of a sales tax than assessments on property taxes.

City officials previously voiced disappointment at not being more involved in the metrowide discussions on permanent flood protection, but they offered a more positive outlook after Monday night's meeting.

They said questions still remain about many issues over the diversion that have yet to be decided, but they feel reassured.

"We needed to be at the table, and I think we're at the table," Commissioner Mark Simmons said.