- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Supporters of a Red River diversion channel around the flood-prone Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota, metropolitan area said Wednesday that a new funding formula would save taxpayers money and help move up construction of the project.

The Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority board voted during a special meeting Wednesday to support the concept, which would combine public and private resources to build the nearly $2 billion channel and associated infrastructure. The project has been authorized by Congress, but federal funding would need to be appropriated each year to cover construction costs, which would be shared by the local, state and federal governments.

The discussion came in front of Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is managing the project. Bostick said the administration supports the funding plan and hopes it can become a template for other projects around the country.

“We can’t wait. The nation can’t wait. You can’t wait,” Bostick told the diversion board. “We’re going to try and move this forward.”

The diversion authority said in documents outlining the public-private partnership that the goal is to start construction in 2017 and “finish as soon as practicable,” which the corps has said could take 10 years.



North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven said the new funding plan should help avoid delays in construction, leverage private investment and reduce costs to the federal government by an estimated $400 million. Fellow Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said the proposal “puts Fargo in the strongest competitive position for appropriations.”

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said after the meeting there is a lot of private sector interest in the project, including about a half-dozen contractors who have already contacted the city.

“The way the corps works as far as looking at projects, this is the No. 1 project they are looking at because we are so far ahead in having things lined up,” Mahoney said. “But there’s also a question as to how much funding the corps has. They have to wrestle that to the ground, because if they choose us as a project, it’s a considerable investment.”

The diversion authority is currently dealing with legal and environmental challenges, mostly from upstream residents whose land would be flooded in times of high water. A group representing about 20 cities and townships in North Dakota and Minnesota filed a federal lawsuit in August 2013 asking the corps to come up with a cheaper project that doesn’t flood property.

“Projects like this are never short of challenges,” said Darrell Vanyo, diversion authority chairman. “We feel we have met those challenges.”

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