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What will diversion cost residents? City looking for answers

West Fargo City Commissioners made it clear Monday night that they don't like being in the dark regarding cost figures and how they will affect the city's residents as they relate to the latest plan the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is favoring for the Red River Diversion.

About three weeks ago, the Corps presented a plan that shows the alignment going around the Raymond Interchange and then lying almost side-by-side with the Sheyenne Diversion, the city's present flood protection. The estimated expense for the project, which is presently undergoing the authorization phase in Congress, has been set at $1.8 billion. Special assessment groups have only recently started to meet so detailed plans for actual numbers are projected to be about a year out.

West Fargo officials say that is not acceptable. Even though they are not necessarily opposed to the Diversion they say they are entitled to know local cost share figures.

From the beginning they supported having the diversion extend a mile further to the west to separate it from the existing diversion as well as to allow for extra expansion to the west. This would also have shaved millions from the cost.

West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said the present plan doesn't obviously cater to that at all, adding he would like to secure constituent input and then conduct another meeting to address the topic. "Right now we don't have a clue as to what this is going to cost West Fargo. It would be nice to know what each homeowner would pay or just what the city share will be. You just don't throw out a $1.8 billion dollar cost and think that's not a fair question to have answered. They are obviously not going to start digging tomorrow so I would recommend that we go back and listen to what our constituents are saying."

Mattern added that he thought the process was a backward one. "They did all the design and haven't arrived at a cost share. It's like building a million dollar house and afterwards figuring out how to pay for it. It doesn't make any sense and it has become a bone of contention among all the commissioners because of that. I think cost is a fair question to ask. Not knowing also frustrates residents. They want flood protection but they deserve to know the assessments on their property. Just to not know and arbitrarily take a leap of faith and not have a general idea -- nobody does that."

Mattern also raised the question about aesthetics with the two diversions side-by-side. "The way the plan sits there will be one big one and one little one. How do you make that aesthetically pleasing?"

Commissioner Mark Simmons raised the question about sales tax funding the project and how that would work to make it fair for all citizens.

Commissioner Duane Hanson also brought up his distaste for the cost issue addressing the consultants present.

Eric Dodds, a engineer with AS2E who provides consulting to the Diversion authority, responded: "It's a $1.8 billion project so for us to have all the answers (at this point) is probably a little unrealistic for a program of this magnitude."

"We just want to know what it's going to cost us," Hanson countered. "You should be able to do the math but I just get the feeling you guys are not wanting us to know."

Hanson said the numbers are needed sooner rather than later. "When you are already moving the dirt won't work. We need to know what it's going to cost and you guys should be providing answers. That' s what you get paid to do."

Commissioner Mike Thorstad, who has been among commissioners involved with the Diversion planning and input meetings, said he thought it important to also study the impact of having no room to the west for development but looking to the north for growth and expansion opportunities if the diversion plan is realized as presently proposed.

This plan will result in a lot more protected land to the north in extraterritorial area that so far has not been annexed into either West Fargo or Fargo.

"If we are closed off to the west how much to the north is available for us to to move into," he said would be a good question to have considered. "What are our opportunities to the north to offset to the west?"

Mattern recommended that the commission find out what citizens are thinking before another discussion takes place in January. Staff, i.e. city attorney, engineer, planning, and other related departments, were also directed to look at the implications for residents as well as arriving at possible alternatives, whether it be doing nothing, a lawsuit, etc.

In other action, the commission:

approved facade grant requests up to $20,000 each from two longtime West Fargo businesses -- the Silver Dollar Bar at 221 Sheyenne St. and Sandy's Donuts at 301 Main Ave.

Each are doing major renovations of their businesses with the facade grant a newly implemented city program that provides assistance in improving the front exterior of the buildings on portions of Sheynenne St and Main Avenue'.

The Silver Dollar is adding 800 square feet to the front of their existing building while Sandy's Donuts is undergoing extensive remodeling including gutting the kitchen and adding new walls and flooring, a new roof, wiring, plumbing and heating. The business started out as a Hardee's in 1979 with Sandy's Donuts relocating to the site ten years ago.

-approved second reading of a zoning ordinance amendment to Chapter 4-470 nonconforming lots, uses of land, structures and uses of structures;

-approved second reading on the rezoning and final plat approval for South Pond at the Preserve 6th Addition of proposed Block 1 from agricultural to planned unit development.

-approved second reading on the rezoning and final plat approval for North Pond at the Preserve 3rd Addition of proposed Lot 4, Block 1 from agricultural to light commercial.

-gave final plat approval to a replat of Furnberg 2nd Addition, located on the west side of Veterans Boulevard, north of 40th Avenue East, as requested by West Fargo school officials to allow for additional right-of-way and street access. A middle school is presently under construction on the north side of the lot. Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center is located on the south side of the lot and will be converted to a high school in the future;

-acting as the board of adjustments approved a variance request by Kevin Olson to reduce the side yard setback from 5 feet to 4.18 feet for a residential structure located at 1938 2nd Ave. E. in Meadow Ridge 12th Addition. When Olson acquired the property his home was not the required 5 feet from the side property line, therefore the request for the variance no in order for Olson to subdivide the property;

-okayed the appointment of Mark Wentz to the Cass County Planning and Zoning Commission for the year 2013;

-appointed Mark Simmons as the regular member and Rich Mattern as the alternate to the Fargo Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments, also for the 2013 year.

-approved the contract proposal from Centre Inc. for the 2013 and 2014 calendar years at $20.50 per hour for each referral not to exceed $122.25 per 24-hour period for each referral for services they provide to the city of West Fargo to house members of the community who have become intoxicated to the point they can not take care of themselves. These are individuals who have not committed a crime so are not eligible for jail. The city budgets annually for this expense.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place Monday, Dec. 3 at 5:30 p.m. in the commission chambers at West Fargo City Hall, 800 4th Ave. E. All meetings are open to the public.