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FM Diversion and Dam Increases national debt

Defending Richland and Wilkin counties February 11th, 2016

Fargo Dam and FM Diversion Authority Project

Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority
Original Publication Date:
February 11th, 2016

Wahpeton Daily News
Republished with permission from:
JPA Editorial Team

Lipstick on a pig. It was in living color at the Diversion Authority’s celebration over the 2017 federal budget proposal. In a post announcement news conference, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney and friends painted enough rouge and eyeliner for the unsuspecting news crews to make a beautician blush. But the real picture isn’t near so rosy for the future of the Diversion Authority’s beloved diversion.

The Office of Management and Budget did something it almost never does, by footnoting the planned $5 million project start with conditions that have to be met before the funding becomes a reality. Surprisingly, they are what the upstream residents and Joint Powers Authority have been asking for all along. The most obvious is that the Secretary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot give a project start or provide any funding for it until it’s likely that the regulatory issues will be resolved.

This has two meanings. The first is that Minnesota must permit the project. The second is that the JPA legal challenge over whether federal floodplain rules have been followed must be resolved. Attorneys for the Diversion Authority have argued that Minnesota law doesn’t matter because it’s an authorized, federal project. Minnesota has twice filed legal briefs friendly to the JPA, defending their right to protect their territory. The footnote to the budget that specifically states they need permits from Minnesota, places that requirement in federal law.

Equally troubling for the Diversion Authority is the way Office of Management and Budget structured the tentative funding. They pulled the $5 million from last year’s 2016 budget. They didn’t provide any money from the 2017 fiscal year which begins Oct. 1. The Secretary of the Army Corps can’t consider whether the conditions are met before July 1 and the money must be spent or lost before Sept. 30. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources review and federal court case must be favorably concluded in time for the Diversion Authority to get their hands on the cash. What’s more troubling is the lack of confidence at the Office of Management and Budget that the project will make it that far. Money was designated for projects across the country for 2017, except for Fargo.

This pig of a project is in Fargo’s poke. The Office of Management and Budget doesn’t want it. Whether it gets a public/private partnership designation from the Corps later in the year is unknown. It’s clear from the federal $5 million donation for a $2 billion project – but more likely to be a $3 or $4 billion project – that they don’t think it’s worth the federal interest. They are telling Fargo that if they go ahead with construction, they’re on their own.

Maybe Fargo’s leaders will use this opportunity to look for a more reasonable approach to flood control and not lead their community into a financial disaster, which will certainly happen.

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