FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A Fargo group serving as public sponsor of a planned Red River diversion has been given the green light to help defend the project in a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed by the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority and accuses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of planning an overpriced project that would damage farmland. The group said the nearly $2 billion project shouldn’t move forward until further review of possible environmental impacts.

U.S. Magistrate Leo Brisbois ruled last week in favor of a request by the Red River Diversion Authority to join as a defendant in the lawsuit. The authority is made up of city and county officials from the Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., area.

Darrell Vanyo, president of the diversion authority, said in court documents that his group has a “critical interest” in the project.

“The members of the authority helped design and fund the project, and will live with, pay for, and operate the project,” Vanyo said. “There is no higher capital priority for the Authority and its individual members than the project.”

The Richland-Wilkin group told Brisbois that it would not contest the motion by the diversion authority. However, a spokesman for a group of upstream residents said Tuesday that it was unusual for a group to join a lawsuit as defendants.

“This is another case of the diversion authority’s irresponsible representation of the taxpayers of Moorhead and Fargo,” said Nathan Berseth, a member of the MnDak Upstream Coalition.

Diversion supporters say long-term protection is needed for residents who dealt with three straight years of major flooding beginning in 2009. Last spring the city of Fargo spent about $2.5 million in protection measures for a flood that wound up peaking lower than expected.

Congress has authorized the diversion project, but federal funding still needs to be appropriated before construction can begin. The federal share of the project is more than $800 million.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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