- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A group of Red River diversion opponents who have filed a federal lawsuit against the planned flood control project are pleading their case in Minnesota state court as well.

The complaint filed Friday by the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority, made up of representatives from about 20 cities and townships in North Dakota and Minnesota, says it doesn’t make sense to begin construction of a ring dike around communities south of Fargo until a review of possible environmental impacts is completed.

The proposed $2 billion diversion would move water through a 26-mile channel around Fargo, but would need a staging area to store water in times of serious flooding. The Richland-Wilkin group filed a federal lawsuit in September asks the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to come up with a cheaper project that doesn’t flood farmland.

Diversion sponsors say the ring dike is separate from the channel and meant to protect people in Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke from naturally occurring floodwaters and not primarily from water in the staging area. Opponents believe the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority is seeking to influence the review by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Proceeding with the ring dike will prejudice the environmental review, damage the river system’s capacity to carry flood waters, eliminate areas of natural flood plain, and cause irreparable harm to plaintiffs,” the lawsuit says.

Robert Cattanach, attorney for the diversion authority, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Residents in Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota, have dealt with major flooding in four of the last six springs, starting with a record crest in 2009. Backers say it’s the only way to save North Dakota’s largest city from an eventual catastrophic event.

The diversion would take about 10 years to build once construction begins. Congress has authorized the project, but must pass separate legislation to pay for it.

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