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Leah Rogne Comments to the USACE re: Fargo Moorhead Dam and Diversion

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Leah Rogne Comments USACE FEIS Fargo Moorhead Dam and Diversion

319 Fulton Street
Mankato, MN 56001
November 4,2011

 

Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
ATTN: CECW-P (IP)
7701 Telegraph Road
Alexandria, VA 22315-3860

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

I am writing in opposition to the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Area Flood Risk Management Project. I am not satisfied that the Final EIS addresses the concerns raised by the many individuals who raised concerns in their comments on the SDEIS nor the concerns raised by state and federal agencies.

This project has been rushed through the planning process and is not ready to go to Congress for authorization. Alternatives have not been properly considered, and the public and agencies have not been given sufficient time to evaluate the Final EIS. I agree with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources when they chided the Corps for leaving some of the important elements of investigation until the Final EIS, when there would be only a short period of time to review the response to concerns about the SDEIS.

As you see from the comments on the SDEIS, there was a massive amount of concern about the project from citizens and considerable substantive concerns expressed by state and federal agencies. Leaving so many things until the Final EIS has disadvantaged citizens and agencies in being able to review the Final EIS and comment in only a 30-day period.

I will review some of my concerns below:

LACK OF CONSIDERATION OF PRACTICABLE ALTERNATIVES:

I concur with the lawyers for MnDak Uptream Coalition, whose comments are on page 253 of the Comments on the SDEIS and the lawyers for the Red River Flood Control Impact Group (page 320) who contend that the Corps did not adequately evaluate all the “practicable alternatives” to the Locally Preferred Plan.

There is good evidence that the Locally Preferred Plan was chosen because it would protect more developable land than other alternatives. In the interests of future development, the local sponsors decided against a Northern Inlet that would have reduced downstream impacts and therefore required less upstream staging or possibly no staging at all. The Final EIS states in Appendix D: PDT Team Review Comments:

“Again, the ND alignment is a locally preferred alignment and therefore they [the local sponsors] chose the general location for the inlet. Their reasoning for the location of the inlet being further South than the MN alignment was to accommodate the city of Fargo’s current future plans of development and to protect the city from the Wild Rice River flooding to the South. “

Likewise, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) raised serious question about whether the practicable alternatives had been properly evaluated.

The DNR stated in their Comments on the SDEIS that “many concerns remain unaddressed.”  They state

“it’s apparent that significant additional work is needed to demonstrate that the selected alternative is:
• ecologically sustainable,
• the least impact solution,
• one in which adverse effects can and will be mitigated, and
• consistent with other standards, ordinances, and resources plans of local and regional governments. ” MN DNR T-9

The DNR goes on to state that the assumptions and components of the alternatives analysis presented in Appendix 0, Plan Formulation of the SDEIS need to be:
“re-evaluated to ensure that alternatives where (sic) not screened out that could meet the project purpose with less significant environmental effect. “ T -11

They state that the effectiveness of each alternative was assessed against the non-federal sponsor’s goal of reducing the 0.2% chance even to a stage of 36 feet. They find an inconsistency since the acceptable level was changed to 40 feet. They say that “achieving this goal is not the planning objective, but it appears achieving this high level of flood protection may have incidentally affected screening and assessment of project alternatives.” The Corps states that their alternatives screening process “confirmed that diversion channel concept was the only concept that could achieve the planning objective to provide a high level of flood risk reduction,” but the DNR states that a “high level of flood risk reduction was not identified as one of the planning objectives.” T-11

The DNR states:

“Action needed:
An additional alternative should be evaluated that considers a lower, but still acceptable level offlood risk reduction thatfocuses on the 1% chance event. By doing this evaluation some other alternatives may be more feasible and cost effective while still meeting the project objective o/reducing flood risk damage in the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Area. “

BUILDING ON/DEVELOPMENT OF THE FLOOD PLAIN

Likewise, the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) raised concerns in the SD EIS that the project would lead to development of the flood plain. They state:

“New flood control projects often have the effect 0/ increasing development in flood prone areas. We anticipate that more flood prone areas in metropolitan Fargo-Moorhead will be developed as a result of the project changing the regulatory floodplain and zoning and building requirements.” EPA, T -5 .

Clearly, to build a project like this would be an inappropriate use of federal funds. There is strong concern that practicable alternatives have not been adequately considered, and as such, the project violates federal law (EO 11988).

UNSTABLE SOILS

This project is to be built on notoriously unstable soils, but the soil borings to determine the nature of the soils under the channel, the soils that will have to support the aquaducts and drop structures, have not been completed.

Scientists have raised concerns about these soils, and it makes no sense to move toward authorization when we have no idea of what kinds of supports will be required or how deep they need to go to carry the structures safely. The costs of making sure the structures are safe and stable may be far beyond what is estimated in the current project cost/benefit ratio. Currently the city of Fargo is having to spend $500,000 to repair an approach to a two-year-old bridge over a coulee in the vicinity of the project because of slumping 27 feet below the surface. If a half a million dollars in remediation is necessary only two years after completion of a small project like this, what might be the unanticipated costs of soils problems for this massive project?

How can we authorize a project without the basic knowledge about the soils in which it is placed and the impact ofthat on the cost? Before the project is authorized, the local taxpayers responsible for their share of initial costs for the project as well as for the cost of remediating problems with the project need to have full disclosure of the true potential costs and their liability for failure of the project.

CATSTROPHIC LOSS OF LIFE

The project consistently maximizes the potential loss of life from a flood without the project, assuming that no one will evacuate and hundreds will die, but minimizes the potential loss of life from a catastrophic failure of the project, assuming that no one will die. In its comments on the SDEIS the Minnesota DNR chided the Corps once again for not having done an analysis of loss of life due to a catastrophic failure of the project. To authorize a project that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources calls a “high hazard dam” and is located on unstable soils that have not even been fully analyzed would be highly premature and is, indeed, unconscionable.

CONTROVERSY, LOSS OF TRUST

The perception has been perpetuated that there is no alternative to this project. Clearly, people anxious for flood protection who believe there is no alternative may feel this is their only hope.

Moorhead, Minnesota, has completed or is about to complete flood protection measures that take care of almost the entire flooding problem in that city. This leaves Fargo, North Dakota, a city that has refused to control building on the flood plain, the only beneficiary of this project.

None of us doubt that the area needs flood protection. But a project that sacrifices permanently homes and farms to benefit an urban area that has failed to control its building on the flood plain and now intends to use federal dollars to continue to build where it never should have built is a gross misuse of public funds.

The comments on the SDEIS indicate the high level of controversy this project has created and the potential loss of trust it will engender.

There has not been a full evaluation of practicable alternatives or consideration of measures that would benefit the region, rather than just Fargo. Therefore, this project should not move toward authorization.

Thank you for your consideration of these concerns.

Sincerely,
Leah Rogne, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Sociology and Corrections
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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