- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - The public group managing a Red River diversion project around the Fargo metropolitan area is pursuing eminent domain proceedings to acquire property from three unwilling sellers so it can start construction of the $2.1 billion channel.

The Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority made its plans public Monday, hours after the release of a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources environmental study asking the authority to addresses “serious unanswered questions” about the impact on upstream residents. The department says it won’t approve the necessary permits until those issues are resolved.

One of the landowners on the acquisition list, Donald Cossette, said he and his brother are being forced to give up farmland that pays for his mother’s nursing home care. He has hired a lawyer to fight the proceedings.

“I am doing what I need to do to protect myself. I’m not going to roll over for these people,” Cossette said. “The federal government says you have to make a person whole again. Well, this is not making me whole, I tell you that.”

The Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota, area dealt with three straight years of high water beginning with a record crest in 2009 that destroyed about 100 structures and took a massive sandbagging effort to save the city. Fargo last experienced significant flooding in 2013.

A federal court document filed Monday by consultant Eric Dodds, who is working for the diversion authority, said the group wants to obtain the titles by July 1, which is considered the deadline to start construction this year. The authority waited until Monday to file its notice because it wanted to “avoid any suggestion that it was rushing” the Department of Natural Resourcs, the document states.

Dodds’ declaration says North Dakota law allows the government to acquire properties for public works projects through a “quick take” proceeding, which might take several weeks to complete.

“The diversion authority team has been in regular communications with the owners of these North Dakota properties regarding the need to acquire their property,” Dodds writes. “Through their counsel, it is clear that at least some of the property owners will not agree to sell voluntarily, and those properties will need to be acquired through eminent domain.”

Diversion officials say the land is needed for the first component of the project, which is a gated inlet structure. Cossette says he would be forced to give up 120 of his 160 acres, which would make it impossible for him to rent the land like he does now.

Officials with the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority said earlier this week that Minnesota law prohibits all construction activity until the project obtains the required permits.

“Any action to begin construction will violate that automatic moratorium,” the group said in a statement.

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