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Commission sticking with diversion to the west

West Fargo City Commissioners indicated Monday night they might pull the plug on their support of the Red River Diversion Project if Army Corps of Engineer officials don't consider moving the alignment at least a mile and a half west, to avoid any negative impact on West Fargo's Sheyenne Diversion flood protection and on future growth.

The city voted earlier to support the Red River Diversion if it was moved west, but the Corps sent a letter to Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker on Dec. 16, that stated they favored an eastern alignment. The letter said the Corps was unable to support a western alignment because it "would have additional environmental impacts, including removal of a large area from the floodplain which would then be open for development." They added that unless technical information is provided to the Corps that would show that a shift is technically necessary and superior to other options by Jan. 31, 2011, the proposed shift would no longer be considered.

For that reason, Mayor Rich Mattern asked for the "frank and open discussion" at Monday nights regularly scheduled commission meeting in order to determine how the city should proceed.

Mattern said his recommendation would be to continue supporting the diversion for the time being, and send a letter to the Corps stating the city's case, backed up with technical reasons to support the alignment a mile and a half west, including: unprotected land, and a substation and a lagoon both located outside the area, with the latter replacement cost estimated at $50 million if the need arises.

Commissioner Mike Thorstad said that he has attended most of the Metro Flood Study Work Group meetings with the outcome support for the diversion to the west. "I was shocked when they eliminated that (option). I am not against the diversion. We all agree flood protection is needed. I just think we have the opportunity to do it right the first time. Let's just put it out west."

Thorstad also added that he felt communication from the Corps with West Fargo officials "has been next to nonexistent. When they start talking radical change to the existing flood protection project obviously it will have a big effect on West Fargo and I think we should be getting direct feedback. We've been left out on the edge."

Commissioner Mark Simmons said he also found the decision and lack of communication "shocking. I wish the Corps would have a little more direct conversation with us and I'm hoping tonight that this will send that message to the Corps to at least call us."

Commissioner Duane Hanson questioned the timing of the action "coming right after the election and all of a sudden we are changing direction?"

Commissioner Lou Bennett, said he would go along with the letter for the time being. "We don't want to back them up against the wall."

Public comment on the matter came from longtime West Fargo resident and businessman Wally Tintes who said he had never been in favor of the diversion, suggesting a culvert system instead, which would require a much smaller land area.

Rural resident Tom Beaton said either plan would affect his property but he favored implementation to the west because it would provide a straighter route for the diversion, and would only go through his farmland, while the Corps choice would directly affect his farmstead. He suggested that the commission could also use the straight factor as one of the technical points.

Resident Snyder Gokey said with the current alignment it would run through his living room. He suggested the commission make their strongest argument to the Corps for moving it west so they can be technically and legally justified in doing it.

Simmons said he didn't feel justified in supporting it, if it doesn't go the mile and a half west. "I think we need to send a strong message we want that. If not, personally I would be opposed. We have to do what is best for West Fargo."

Mattern reiterated his support for the letter. "I think we should get all the information to them on why it should be moved west. We have some pretty good arguments. If they turn it down, then we can make future decisions. I think not supporting it is something we look at after Jan. 31."

Commissioner Simmons made the motion to authorize city staff and the city attorney to draft a letter to the Corps, backed by technical arguments for supporting the western alignment, with Commissioner Hanson providing the second. The board voted unanimously to support the action.