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Diversion Authority board votes to submit new plan to Minnesota regulators

This is a rendering of the inlet structure near Horace, N.D., looking downstream from the dam. Image credit: Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority.

FARGO – The Diversion Authority’s board members voted unanimously to accept all recommendations from a task force and will submit a new permit application to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The expected vote, which came Friday, March 16, followed months of talks by task force members, appointed by the governors of Minnesota and North Dakota, aimed at coming up with an acceptable plan that would obtain a permit from the Minnesota DNR.

“It is time for the Diversion Authority to make this official,” Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams, who is the board’s chairwoman, said in a statement. Last week, diversion officials announced the new plan.

“We are looking forward to working with the DNR over the next several months through an iterative and detailed review of the permit application,” Williams added.

The Minnesota DNR refused to grant a permit for the original diversion plan, concluding that it would allow too much development in the floodplain, and Minnesota officials complained it had adverse impacts in Minnesota that exceeded the state’s benefits from the project.

A permit from the DNR is required for a dam across the Red River that will temporarily store water to control downstream releases during severe floods estimated to occur once every 20 years.

“Today’s vote demonstrates that with strong communication and a common goal, we can work together to achieve permittable flood protection for the greater F-M area,” North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement.

Burgum expressed appreciation for a “partnership” with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney and Williams, as well as other community leaders, and said he looked forward to “continuing our shared commitment to this project.”

Flood diversion officials hope a permit can be obtained this year and to resume construction next year, with completion in 2025 on the $2.4 billion project.

Notable changes in the revised plan include allowing an additional 2 feet of water to run through Fargo-Moorhead when the 36-mile flood diversion channel is operating, or a river level of 37 feet instead of the originally planned 35 feet.

The higher river level will require additional levee work and home acquisition in low-lying, flood-prone areas of Fargo, Moorhead and rural Cass County.

Another change, a levee on the Minnesota side, will limit the extent of impacts in Minnesota from temporarily storing water, including eliminating any impacts to the city of Comstock as well as the need to elevate stretches of U.S. Highway 75 and railroad track.

In North Dakota, the revised plan calls for moving the embankment further north in rural Cass County, which officials say strikes a better balance between North Dakota and Minnesota and reduces impacts to the upstream areas in both states south of the metro area.