Diversion Authority board seeks to end lawsuit that stalled flood project
FARGO — The Metro Diversion Authority Board authorized its lawyers to work to resolve the lawsuit that halted construction of the massive flood protection project — a setback that forced officials to come back with a significantly revised project that now has the approval of Minnesota regulators.
The unanimous action to seek an end to the lawsuit came on Thursday, Jan. 3, after the board met in executive session with its lawyers to discuss a path to end the litigation.
The board’s move came after the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources last week granted a major permit that enables the $2.75 billion diversion project to proceed.
In 2017, in a lawsuit brought by upstream opponents of the diversion, North Dakota’s Richland County and Minnesota’s Wilkin County, U.S. District Judge John Tunheim granted an injunction to halt the project. One of the judge’s reasons: Minnesota had not given a permit for the project.
As a result, the governors of Minnesota and North Dakota formed a joint task force that came up with recommendations that led to a significantly altered project, which shifted more of the impacts from Minnesota to North Dakota.
The permit for the revised project, called Plan B, comes with more than 50 conditions that still will have to be met, and more permits will be required.
“That injunction is against Plan A, and since we have a permit for Plan B, it’s almost moot,” said Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, a Diversion Authority board member. “We have a permit in hand.”
The authority board is directing its lawyers to work with the Minnesota DNR to resolve the lawsuit with the hope that major construction can resume this spring. Ending the lawsuit also will help put an end to the uncertainty facing property owners whose property will have to be acquired for the project, Mahoney said.
“Everybody has an idea where we’re at now,” he said, referring to the clarity that comes from having the permit from Minnesota to allow construction of the dam that will temporarily hold back water to regulate flows through the diversion channel, which will split the flows of the Red River in extreme floods.
Mahoney said the Diversion Authority welcomes input from upstream communities as it works to mitigate impacts from the project.
“What we did today is a really positive step,” said Kevin Campbell, a Clay County commissioner and authority board member. “We see no reason for there to be any lawsuits.”