There’s been a lot of discussion and misunderstanding since the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources denied a state permit for the proposed Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Project. I want to clarify our decision and encourage all parties to come together to identify a collaborative solution that can both expand flood protection in the Fargo-Moorhead area and fully comply with Minnesota state law.
Minnesota and North Dakota share this great Red River, and thus must be partners in addressing flood risk. The Minnesota DNR understands and supports the need for enhanced flood protection in portions of the Fargo-Moorhead area. We recognize that sandbagging and other emergency measures take a toll on communities.
Indeed, the state of Minnesota has spent more than $230 million on flood control and protection efforts in Moorhead and the greater Red River Valley over the past eight years alone.
Unfortunately, the Diversion Authority’s proposed project does not meet the requirements under Minnesota law designed to protect the public interest and the environment. Going back several years, the DNR expressed concern that the proposed project might have trouble meeting state standards. We again clearly communicated our concerns this spring when we published the final Environmental Impact Statement.
Knowing this, the Diversion Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers elected to propose a very ambitious project with significant impacts in the floodplain and the staging area with no proposed “Plan B.”
After careful evaluation, the DNR denied the permit application for three primary reasons, which are grounded in Minnesota statute and rule:
Alternatives: The project does not meet the requirement to be reasonable, practical, protect public safety and promote public welfare.
Plan consistency: The project is not consistent with some state and local land use and water management plans in the project area.
Mitigation: The Diversion Authority’s mitigation plan and demonstrated fiscal capacity to implement that plan do not meet the requirements in Minnesota law.
Since the Diversion Authority declined to consider a more modest project alternative, the only options included for consideration in the permit application were the “No Action” and “No Action with Emergency Measures” alternatives.
This left the DNR with two choices: 1) permit the project or 2) deny the project.
Let me be clear, the DNR is not advocating for a sandbagging-only solution. The agency has never recommended or advised that communities rely exclusively on emergency measures.
Even the “No Action with Emergency Measures” alternative includes extensive existing and planned structural flood mitigation measures.
We are fully prepared to help identify a “Plan B” that would provide 100-year flood protection to a larger portion of the developed areas, while minimizing and mitigating upstream impacts, limiting disruption of undeveloped floodplain, and ensuring consistency with applicable federal, state, and local plans.
However, we cannot have a genuine search for a “Plan B” if the Diversion Authority and Army Corps are simultaneously initiating construction on their current proposal.
Let’s work together to find a solution that involves and works for the entire Fargo-Moorhead region.
Landwehr is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.