Is the F-M Diversion Authority looking to West Fargo as their next source of revenue?
In a strange twist of timing, the Diversion Authority switched from a failed full-court press for funding from the North Dakota Legislature, to a sudden declaration of critical flood benefits to the city of West Fargo. They cited West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis as promoting the benefits of the project for his city. Until now, West Fargo officials have claimed their city is fully protected from flooding by the Sheyenne Diversion.
Money drives the Diversion Authority. Fargo officials told the Legislature that if they didn't get an extra $300 million in state assistance over the next six years, they would not be able to get a contractor to build the diversion channel as part of the public-private partnership, or P3. The Legislature appropriated the promised $66.5 million, but offered no more cash. Instead, they stated an intent to add part of requested amount, but only far into the future.
The scramble for funds to lure a P3 manager is more serious than the Legislature's refusal to give a blank check to the project. Legislators realized that the promised $750 million in federal funding may never materialize. Diversion Authority officials have repeatedly stated that the federal government has made a rock-solid promise to give them the money. In fact, the only guarantee made by Army Corps officials is that they have their blessing to ask for the $750 million. Congress is the only entity capable of appropriating additional funds, and they have made no promises. Crisis math says the local share of the hemorrhaging diversion project is more than double what Fargo and Cass County's sales tax can pay.
If the Diversion Authority can convince West Fargo that they need the diversion enough to establish a city sales tax along with Fargo and Cass County, and are willing to accept use of the assessment district, they might be able to save their project. Dardis's past affiliation with the Chamber of Commerce and now as mayor of West Fargo puts him in a difficult position. The Diversion Authority has put the squeeze on him with their press release announcing his support of the diversion, despite his city's past stance of self-reliance.
Even if West Fargo instituted a half-cent sales tax like Cass County, it would only generate a fraction of what's needed to cash flow the project. Collecting property tax from residents and businesses in the assessment district with West Fargo's blessing would generate a much larger pot of money, but still wouldn't cover future cost increases. The only answer is a smaller diversion that would still protect Fargo, but not the flood plain that developers have in their sights. It could be done as a state project, without the Army Corps, in less time, and at an affordable cost. Time is running out on a reasonable solution. The alternative is a spiral into an abyss of debt.