Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority
Original Publication Date:
February 13th, 2014
Wahpeton Daily News
Republished with permission from:
Editorial Team, Richland Wilkin JPA
In January, Jill Townley, project manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sent a letter to Daryl Vanyo, Chairman, FM Diversion Authority (DA). The letter was a stern warning advising Mr. Vanyo that the DA may be violating Federal and Minnesota law.
Because Fargo’s plan calls for the construction of a high hazard dam on the Red River, Minnesota must agree to permit the dam before it can be constructed. The DNR is formulating an environment review (EIS) that will take approximately one year to complete. Minnesota will not make a decision on whether to permit construction of the high hazard dam until it has completed its review.
State and Federal law, Ms. Townley advised, prohibits the DA from: “taking any action on a project including both construction of . . . any part of the project and the acquisition of property in anticipation of construction . . . until the final EIS has been completed and found to be adequate.” At issue of course is the DA’s action with respect to the Oxbow Ring Dike. The DA recently spent $7.5 million on land for Oxbow to build its new private golf course and housing development. The DA is also promising to buyout houses upon which to build Oxbow’s ring dike, with construction to begin in a few short months. DNR leaders, having reviewed the agreement between Oxbow and the DA, know that the sole purpose of the ring dike is to mitigate the impacts of the proposed dam.
If however, the Oxbow ring dike is a stand-alone project, i.e. something that would have been constructed regardless of the Dam and Diversion, there would be no violation. The DNR, in a somewhat tongue in cheek manner, challenged the FM Diversion Authority to explain why they should consider the Oxbow ring dike a stand-alone project.
Chairman Vanyo’s public response thus far has been to describe Ms. Townley and the DNR as being “confused,” having been duped by the Upstream Coalition. Vanyo and his agents now maintain that the Oxbow ring dike is indeed a stand-alone project.
A cursory review of the official minutes of the DA renders the freshly minted “stand alone” position ludicrous. Fargo and Cass County plan to stage 7 feet of water on Oxbow, Bakke and Hickson behind their proposed dam. The DA, and its Minnesota members (Moorhead and Clay County), voted to ring dike this community, over the objections of a majority of that community, as an alternative to buying out every building. The purpose and intent behind the ring dike concept is well documented: mitigation of the impacts of the FM Diversion Project.
Vanyo’s position appears ridiculous when you consider the elevation of Bakke and Hickson, and the level of Oxbow’s current levee system. Bakke and Hickson have never flooded. According to the Army Corps Maps, should a 42.5 foot Fargo flood ever occur, Bakke and Hickson would still be dry. Oxbow’s current levees are at 918, higher than Oxbow’s 500 year flood level. But for the plan to flood this community behind the proposed dam, no reason exists to construct a 17 foot ring dike, or even a two foot ring dike.
So what’s next? Will Vanyo and the DA continue to treat the DNR as “confused,” begin buyouts and commence construction of the promised ring dike? Will Minnesota then join the Richland Wilkin JPA in seeking an injunction? Stay tuned.