- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Proponents of a proposed $2.1 billion Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project will have to do a better job of addressing concerns about how it would affect farmers and other residents upstream before Minnesota will issue the permits the project needs, the state’s Department of Natural Resources commissioner said Monday.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr stressed during a conference call with reporters that the final environmental impact statement, which was released Monday, doesn’t mean the project has been approved or rejected. The document is a detailed technical analysis of the project and ways to mitigate its negative impacts, such as the costs to farmers whose lands would temporarily flood from time to time to help protect the two cities.

“We think there are still some serious unanswered questions about mitigation,” Landwehr said, citing the impact on land that would go under water but not very deeply during serious flooding years, and on areas that historically haven’t flooded before. He said Minnesota will need to see more detailed plans for addressing such problems. “We don’t believe the project proponents have adequately identified all the mitigation required to deal with those temporary impacts.”

While North Dakota leaders support the project, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has been a critic, saying people living upstream along the northward-flowing river are being treated unfairly.

“I think it’s fair to say that as we get into permitting, the governor’s concerns, which are my concerns, frankly, are going to be big considerations,” Landwehr said.

The project is designed to reduce the costly chronic flooding risks in the Fargo-Moorhead area, which dealt with three straight years of high water beginning in 2009, when a record crest led to a huge sandbagging effort. Fargo last experienced significant flooding in 2013.

But the project would achieve that protection by transferring risks upstream. It would include a dam to create an upstream storage area for floodwaters and a portion of the flow would be diverted into a 36-mile channel west of Fargo on the North Dakota side that would reconnect with the river to the north.

In a section added since a draft was released for public comment in September, the document notes that the project would shift the risk of flooding to some areas that currently don’t face it.

“Several commenters expressed concerns that this transfer of flood risk is unfair and unethical,” the document states.

The document also points out that North Dakota would get most of the protection from the project, as only about 14 percent of the protected acres would be in Minnesota. It says Minnesota would see a net increase of 2,088 acres that would be subject to flooding, while North Dakota would enjoy a net reduction of 54,549 at-risk acres. The justification is that the Fargo-Moorhead area is an important regional center with more buildings and more people.

The DNR will take public comments on the review through May 31. Landwehr will then decide whether the document is “adequate,” meaning that it meets the legal requirements. Landwehr declined to predict how long that might take, but his decision is expected to come sometime this summer. If he signs off, the DNR would then begin considering the permits it must issue for the project to be built, a process that usually takes several months.

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Online:

Minnesota DNR project site: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/input/environmentalreview/fm_flood_risk/index.html


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