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Corps Outlines Changes In Red River Diversion Plan

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(credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it needs formal approval from state and local officials in two states by April 11 to keep alive the latest version of a planned Red River diversion around Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn.

The corps on Wednesday outlined recent changes to the project as workers for the agency were building temporary levees around the Fargo-Moorhead area. Residents are preparing to defend against what’s predicted to be a third straight major flood.

A record flood in 2009 forced thousands to evacuate, inundated about 100 homes and caused an estimated $100 million in damages. Last year’s flood crest was the sixth-highest on record.

The diversion, which would move water west of the metropolitan area on the North Dakota side, originally was estimated at $1.25 billion. The latest changes have bumped up the cost to $1.7 billion. More than $950 million would come from sources other than the federal government.

Officials representing city and county governments said they expected approval of the updated plan.

“We do not want to be the agency that kills this project. That’s the bottom line,” Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

Even so, some are worried that the higher price tag could make the channel more difficult to sell to taxpayers.

“That’s going to weigh heavy on a lot of people’s minds — how we’re going to pay for this,” said Darrell Vanyo, Cass County, N.D., commissioner.

Vanyo said there’s “firm commitments” for funding from the city, county and state on the North Dakota side and called on Minnesota to up the ante. The amount of money Minnesota officials are willing to pay for the diversion has been “casual conversation,” Vanyo said.

“We need something concrete,” he said. “It can’t be just business as usual and we have to run to our state and look for things locally.”

The new plan calls for entire communities south of Fargo — upstream from the north-flowing river — to be bought out. That includes Oxbow, an upscale development of about 200 people built around a popular country club with the same name.

The corps said Wednesday that saving Oxbow would require at least $35 million to move the channel further south, not including the costs of possible environmental impact. A local technical team said they would be willing to consider the change to protect Oxbow.

“It sounds like there are some considerations and reasons for moving the diversion south, so we’re hoping that continues to be looked at,” Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof said after the meeting. “But yet, mitigation really is the route they’re going now and we need to know concrete terms of that.”

The original design for the project was changed after corps officials discovered that impacts for downstream communities were greater than first anticipated. Aaron Snyder, project manager for the corps, called it a “little hiccup” in the plan.

“This was not anticipated and was not acceptable,” Snyder said.

Should the project remain on schedule and authorized by Congress, construction would begin in spring 2013, the corps said. Actual construction would take more than eight years.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said there are still a lot of issues to be decided, but believes it’s important to approve the updates to keep the project moving forward.

Voxland cited flood fatigue as a motivating factor for the diversion.

“Our staff is real tired of blowing the first few months of every year just getting ready for a flood fight,” he said. “There are a lot of other things we need to do to make a city work.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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