Re-evaluating the Need for the FM Diversion
Received Friday, May 15, 2015
Author: Blain Johnson, Emergency Manager
As an Emergency Manager, I feel the need to constantly reevaluate and re-prioritize hazard mitigation projects based on the steps and actions local communities have taken since the last disaster. I feel this is a crucial process not only for Emergency Managers, but for administrators at any level of government and private industry.
The contentious Fargo-Moorhead diversion is a prime example of a hazard mitigation project, which was developed immediately following the record flooding along the Red River in 2009. With the recent stopping of the Oxbow ring dike by a federal judge in Minnesota, I think this is a great opportunity for the leaders of Fargo to reassess the strategic value and cost of the diversion project.
It appears West Fargo has dropped support of the diversion with its recent vote against the special tax assessment which would partially fund the project, in addition to Mayor Mattern’s comments afterwards. Moorhead does not seem to be able to make up their mind one way or another, perhaps worried about political and fiscal repercussions from their neighbor. One thing is for certain, Moorhead will not see any flooding issues until 41 feet or greater after tremendous city improvements over the past six years. Even Governor Dayton has expressed his displeasure at the timeline and hastiness of the decisions being made by both the Diversion Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers, not to mention the Minnesota DNR’s blatant hatred of the process thus far. It appears the only people in the area pushing for the project is now solely the city of Fargo.
According to fmdam.org, the Diversion Authority is spending an average of over $234,000 per day on diversion costs. How is this gross expenditure being allowed and even condoned by some local leaders? Imagine the infrastructure and mitigation projects that could have been funded and completed with this amount of money over the past six years. If the city would have spent that much money on diking and construction costs, flooding would not even cross residents minds today. Elm Street could have been raised and protected along with Second Street downtown.
After 2009, every city along the Red made significant improvements to flood protection, appropriately using FEMA funding and taxpayer dollars to do it. Oxbow had already built a dike system after 2009 which would have protected the city to another similar record flood. But instead of pointing this out, the Diversion Authority instead bought out Oxbow’s strong opposition to the diversion project by offering a new golf course, new clubhouse, and additional housing, and cowardly Oxbow leaders took the check and ran. Now Oxbow residents are smiling and preparing their golf carts for a new course that Fargo taxpayers bought, while residents in Fargo have absolutely nothing to show for their money due to blatant mismanagement of monies. Perhaps Oxbow should become a public golf course or give reduced memberships to Fargo residents?
With recent events, and the support for the project fading, I see this injunction as a great time for city leaders and citizens alike to step back, take a breath, and reevaluate the value of the $2 billion project. Look at the great strides cities in the area have made with their protection recently, for example, between Fargo and Moorhead, both cities have built a combined 25 miles of permanent levees since 2009 which will protect to the 41 foot level while the city of Fargo needs just 4% the amount of sandbags to protect against a 38’ crest than they needed in 1997, which has only happened 4 times since 1897.
Perhaps the supporters of the project will realize that the city’s safety against flooding is already much greater than some would like admit, and that other forms of mitigation actions are just as likely to further increase the cities protection to appropriate levels, without harming other communities, and all at much less of a cost than the current FM Diversion price tag.
The current expenditures cannot continue and are not sustainable. Fargo should re-focus their efforts on in-town protection and stop wasting hard earned taxpayer dollars on an unnecessary project. With a bit more time and proper spending, Fargo will join Moorhead and West Fargo with protections that exceed the highest crest recorded, without spending $2 billion.