FARGO — Joel Paulsen, a Moorhead City Council member and former director for the Metro Flood Diversion Authority, is one of three finalists for the executive director position to manage the $2.75 billion project.

Finalists will be interviewed Wednesday, July 17, for the position. It’s the third time in recent years that the Diversion Authority has tried to fill the executive director slot. Whoever is hired will be the first person to assume the role.

Paulsen said he immediately resigned from the Diversion Authority board when he submitted his application about six weeks ago, and will resign from the Moorhead City Council if hired as the flood-control project’s executive director.

A native of Moorhead, Paulsen graduated from North Dakota State University and has 15 years of experience as a civil engineer. His current position is senior associate and office lead in Fargo and Bismarck at Stantec Consulting.

In his application letter, Paulsen said he has extensive knowledge of flood control in the Red River Valley.

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“I have fought numerous floods (1997, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2019) and I intimately understand the flood risk and the geo-political dynamics of the Red River Valley,” he wrote.

“The diversion for me is the most important project for Fargo, West Fargo, Moorhead, the metro area,” Paulsen said in an interview, adding that he felt compelled to apply for a position to administer “a project in my backyard that protects my family, my friends” from catastrophic flooding.

Joel Paulsen, an engineer and Moorhead City Council member, is a finalist for the top executive position for the Metro Flood Diversion Authority.
Joel Paulsen, an engineer and Moorhead City Council member, is a finalist for the top executive position for the Metro Flood Diversion Authority.

The two other finalists for the diversion executive director position include a former county and municipal manager from Maryland and a lawyer who is the director of emergency management for Minneapolis.

In his application, Barret Lane said he led the “redesign and reorganization” of the city of Minneapolis’ emergency management department and helped manage “one of the most complex planned events ever conducted in Minnesota — Super Bowl LII — in 2018,” which involved a staff of almost 120 people and collaboration with more than 70 governmental and non-governmental agencies.

The other finalist, Ken Decker, a native Montanan who served as county administrator for Caroline County, Maryland, population 33,000, for seven years. In that capacity, he led a senior management team of nine department heads supervising 160 employees with an annual operating budget of $48.5 million, according to his resume.

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Earlier, Decker was town manager and zoning administrator for the town of Hampstead, Maryland, population 6,500, and previously served as operations manager for a business and workforce development center in Maryland.

Decker’s experience includes drainage and stormwater management in “one of the most sensitive and heavily regulated watersheds in America, the Chesapeake Bay,” he wrote in his application letter.

“Put simply, I bring everything needed to bootstrap the Metro Flood Diversion Authority into full operation,” he wrote.

The salary for the diversion executive director is “competitive and negotiable,” but not specified in the job posting.

The candidate who emerged as the top pick for the position in 2017 withdrew his application when salary negotiations failed to reach an agreement, a development that came soon after a federal judge issued an order halting construction on the diversion’s inlet structure.

The position is the chief executive officer and reports directly to the board.

“This is a new position that will function without staff in the near term and will be expected to shape the administrative vision and organizational approach for the Diversion Authority in the future,” according to the job posting.

Diversion officials are eager to fill the executive position. Construction on the diversion outlet will resume soon, enabled by court order, even while administrative challenges against a key Minnesota permit for the diversion continue. Land agents have been busy buying property and acquiring rights to land for the project.

“I think everybody’s anxious to get somebody on board,” said Rocky Schneider, a spokesman for the Diversion Authority. “It’s been a long process. You want to make sure you get the right person.”

The diversion project would involve a 36-mile channel that would divert flows from the Red River and bypass the Fargo-Moorhead metro area to the west. To minimize downstream impacts, the project would include a dam that would temporarily pool water upstream to allow a controlled release of the floodwaters.