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Gov. Dayton calls for halt to Fargo-Moorhead diversion

Gov. Mark Dayton has asked federal officials to halt construction of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project until Minnesota can assess it.

In a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Dayton said last week that the federal agency should not allow the project to proceed until Minnesota can complete an environmental impact statement.

The Corps of Engineers and the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority have proposed a $1.9 billion project that includes a dam on the Red River and diversion channel through North Dakota around Fargo to carry seasonal flood waters.

In his Aug. 21 letter, Dayton wrote that it is "unacceptable that federal funding should be appropriated for the Fargo-Moorhead Project, or that construction should be allowed" before Minnesota's review. Dayton's added that that "placement of the dam requires a permit" from the state.

Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo called the governor's letter, "perplexing at best," and said he doesn't expect Dayton's intervention to stop the work.

The authority supports the environmental review by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and will seek any necessary permit, said Vanyo, who met last week with DNR officials to discuss the environmental review.

DNR officials recently asked for an extension to complete the review, Vanyo said, and requested about $500,000 in additional funding from the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority to pay for the work. The group already has provided about $1.3 million dollars so far for the environmental work.

The DNR's review was scheduled to be completed in May of 2015, but the governor's letter indicated it would not be finished until fall of 2015.

In his letter, Dayton noted that less than 10 percent of the project would benefit Minnesota, while the Fargo area would receive more than 90 percent.

"I urge no further federal efforts to be made to advance the Project to construction, including endorsing federal funding, issuing federal permits, and providing construction assistance to the Diversion Authority, until Minnesota has completed its environment review, and has had an opportunity to explore the implications of our analysis with the Corps and the State of North Dakota," Dayton wrote.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official said it will take some time for staff to review the governor's letter and prepare a response.

In June, the diversion authority began building the Oxbow-Hickson-Bakkee ring levee, Dayton said, even though officials knew Minnesota had not completed its review.

"Given that land’s elevation, it is highly likely that this levee has independent utility from construction of the overall project," Dayton wrote.

The Fargo-Moorhead Diversion project is also the subject of a federal lawsuit by residents upstream on the Red River who say the project would flood their farms and homes. The Minnesota DNR filed a friend of the court brief in that case, challenging information provided by the Diversion Authority.

Construction of project has been authorized by Congress, but the $800 million federal share has not been approved. Local officials expect North Dakota state and local governments to pay 90 percent of the local cost with the Minnesota legislature asked to fund 10 percent.


By Mukhtar Ibrahim and Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio News