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Communities join forces to alter diversion route

West Fargo City Commissioners are determined to fight the eastern alignment of the proposed Red River Diversion, joining together with communities to the south, in doing so, including Oxbow, Christine, and Leonard.

The board voted unanimously Monday night to send a letter reflective of all the communities concerns by the end of this month to the Army Corps of Engineers and others affected by the project, including officials in Fargo, Moorhead and Cass and Clay Counties.

Early on in the diversion talks, West Fargo officials have favored pushing the diversion to the west, which would give the community additional room for expansion.

The Corps has favored the eastern alignment saying future growth isn't a valid reason to move the alignment and if it were to change it would only be a small distance.

Mayor Rick Mattern said the intention of the letter to voice support for the diversion but not the eastern route as proposed, outlining "bullet points" explaining why they collectively support a western route or one that better protects the communities to the south before anything is approved by the Corps.

The Commission also gave the go ahead for city staff to allocate funds for attorney's fee if a legal fight pursues over the diversion.

Mattern said he had attended a meeting two weeks ago in Christine to meet with various representatives of neighboring communities to discuss the proposed Red River Diversion alignment and their concerns about additional flooding impacts from the project as well as other water storage issues affecting their cities.

After a lengthy discussion, Mattern said the consensus was to write a letter, adding that was what he was proposing to fellow commissioners Monday night.

He said West Fargo City Attorney Brian Neugebauer would work with the Oxbow city attorney to compile the content, and then respective cities would sign off on it before presenting it to the final entities.

After attending several Metro Flood meetings, City Commissioner Mike Thorstad said his impression was that any considering of a western alignment would "move feet and not miles. I don't get a good feeling they are going to give us a solid look at a western route. I'm sorry I've not heard anything that encourages me that this is going to happen."

Mattern agreed saying, "I don't have any kind of good feeling that they are even considering it. They just don't want to listen. I think we can all agree that Fargo and Moorhead need flood protection. This puts us in a difficult position. We favor a project, but not as it is currently proposed."

Mattern said he has not heard any response back from Corps officials regarding an earlier letter submitted to them by the city the end of January, encouraging the Corps to consider a western alignment. "They were going to respond and I still haven't heard from them."

When asked if sending the collective letter would be a strong enough stance, Mattern suggested starting there and making sure all recipients that it is intended for receive it, including the governor and congressional delegates. "If this gets us nowhere, maybe we should just flat out say we won't support it all."

Neugebauer told the board he thought they "would get more bang for their buck" by getting the attention of legislators, congressional people and the Corps. If a congressman says they don't' really like this, they (the Corps) will listen more."

The commission agreed to move forward with the letter "as a first step." The content will come back to the board for their review before it is issued.

The commission also heard a state of the city message from Mayor Rich Mattern, and Commissioners regarding their respective departments for the year 2010 that painted a bright picture of growth and commitment by city crews.

Mattern noted the increase in residential growth compared to 2009, with single family permits up 6.5 percent and multiple family units up more than 18 percent, adding that the population of the city is estimated to be more than 27,500 once all the units permitted have been completed.

Development also continues on an upward trend with the Maple Ridge and Eaglewood Subdivisions; the Renaissance Zone and other programs continue to bring in new businesses; and the challenge to hold the line on taxes is continuing to be met by conservative, diligent city reaction.

Commissioner Mike Thorstad reported on the status of his portfolios, sanitation, building inspection and the library; Lou Bennett on police, fire and urban forestry; Duane Hanson, water and sewer; and Mark Simmons, streets. (More information on each of the reports from the respective departments will be forthcoming in future areas of the Pioneer as each is featured individually.)

In other action, the commission:

-approved second reading of Ordinance No. 876 relating to moving buildings;

-favored first reading of eight ordinances pertaining to updates of various city codes;

-awarded the bid contract for Storm Sewer Improvement District No. 4044 to Tom's Backhoe Service, Inc., Brainerd, Minn., with a low bid of $41,224.30.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place at 5:30 p.m., Monday, March 17, in the commission chambers at West Fargo City Hall, 800 4th Ave. E. All meetings are open to the public.