- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Supporters of a planned $2 billion Red River diversion project say the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is inventing reasons to oppose a related upstream ring dike project.

Federal court documents filed Wednesday by attorneys for the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority accuse the DNR of failing to exercise its policies “in an evenhanded way” and says the agency’s “newfound objection” about the width of the levee south of Fargo is bogus.

“This clearly post-hoc rationalization implicates no conceivable Minnesota interest,” writes Michael Drysdale, an attorney for the diversion authority.

A group of diversion opponents representing about 20 cities and townships in North Dakota and Minnesota filed a lawsuit in August 2013 and later added a motion to stop construction of the dike that is meant to protect structures in the Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke areas. Those communities are located in an area that would be flooded as a staging area for the diversion in times of high water.

A federal judge has halted construction of the levee until the DNR completes its environmental study of the entire diversion. The diversion authority is appealing the decision.

The DNR had complained before the lawsuit was filed about the construction of the levee, but the diversion authority believed it had satisfied those concerns by knocking down the level of protection from a 500-year flood to a 100-year event. Drysdale says the DNR is going against multiple public statements by now opposing any type of levee before their report is complete.

The DNR says in court documents that while it has allowed other communities to build protection to address 100-year flood levels, the Oxbow levee is different because it’s part of the entire diversion project.

The diversion authority also denies that levee construction has continued after the injunction, as is alleged by diversion opponents. Drysdale says the authority is performing erosion control work on previously constructed portions of the dike, but any other construction activity at the site is being performed by homeowners or other private parties.

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