August 21st, 2014
The Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy
Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)
108 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0108
Dear Madam Assistant Secretary:
I want to express my strong concerns about the construction work that is proceeding on the Fargo-Moorhead Flood Risk Management Project, prior to the completion of a required environmental review by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Minnesota has had a long-standing commitment to provide flood protection to the City of Moorhead and other communities along the Red River of the North. When completed in 2015, the State and the City of Moorhead will have invested over $105 million in flood mitigation projects since 2009. Moorhead is currently protected to the 42-foot river stage, plus one-and-a-half to two feet of freeboard. We strongly value the safety and security that good flood protection provides to our citizens.
Beyond these flood protections, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority (Diversion Authority) have proposed a $1.924 billion project, which would provide a larger, structural flood control system. The Project would divert water around the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area, beginning at the 35-foot river stage, which is well below the typical level at which significant area flooding occurs. The Project has been advanced by the Corps in the Chief’s Report as the locally-preferred option and would provide for dams and tie back levees constructed on the Red and Wild Rice Rivers to hold back the waters of the Wild Rice and Red River. Water would be stored in a staging area upstream of these dams (south of Fargo-Moorhead). Thus, farm fields and communities in Minnesota and North Dakota would be intentionally flooded in order to protect downstream property from flood water. The water would be gradually released from the staging area into the diversion channel, which would extend west and north of Fargo on the North Dakota side of the Red River. Diverted waters would reenter the Red River near Georgetown, Minnesota.
The Project requires the construction of a class 1 (high hazard) dam on the Red River. The Red River is Minnesota public water; thus the placement of a dam requires a permit from the State of Minnesota. Furthermore, Minnesota is required by Minnesota Rules 4410.4400, subpart 18 to prepare a State Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for any project requiring a class 1 (high hazard) dam permit. Minnesota has begun work on this EIS and expects to complete it in late Fall 2015.
I have very serious concerns about the Project. Much of the land in the staging area has not previously been flooded, even in the worst floods of record. Since Moorhead is currently protected to the 42-foot river stage, less than 10% of the Project’s benefits will accrue to Minnesota. The Fargo area will receive over 90% of the Project’s benefits, including the protection for future economic development of an undeveloped flood plain on the south side of Fargo. In fact, a major feature of the Project’s design appears to be the flooding of Minnesota (and North Dakota) farmland in order to assure North Dakota developers that their investments will be safeguarded.
The State of Minnesota has voiced concerns with the Project on four separate occasions, with informal comments in 2009 and three formal comment letters during the federal environmental review process. Because Minnesota planned to address its issues in its EIS, the Corps communicated that those issues would not be part of the federal review. Indeed, a number of the Corps’ responses to comments in the Federal Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement stated that “[the Corps] recognizes the need for a Minnesota State EIS for this project and has been coordinating with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and project sponsors for the development of this EIS.”
Further, it is my understanding that the Chiefs Report for the Project recommended Congressional authorization, “subject to . . . requirements of Federal and State laws and policies,” as well as the requirement that the Diversion Authority comply with Minnesota State environmental review and permitting requirements. Nevertheless, although fully aware that Minnesota has not completed its environmental review, the Diversion Authority began construction of the Oxbow-Hickson-Bakke ring levee (Ring Levee) in North Dakota this past June. Given that land’s elevation, it is highly unlikely that this levee has independent utility separate from construction of the overall Project.
Thus, construction of the Ring Levee, prior to completion of Minnesota’s EIS, violates our state’s law. Given the express commitments made by the Corps to Minnesota during the federal environmental review process and in the Chiefs Report, it is unacceptable that federal funding should be appropriated for the Fargo-Moorhead Project, or that construction should be allowed to begin prior to completion of Minnesota’s environmental review.
Neither the Corps nor the Diversion Authority should construe Minnesota’s initial silence during the Congressional debate and consideration for authorization in the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA 2014) as our approval of the Fargo-Moorhead Project. By statute, Minnesota cannot approve or reject the proposed project, until after the completion of the environmental review, which will include an analysis of reasonable project alternatives.
I urge that no further federal efforts be made to advance the Project to construction, including endorsing federal funding, issuing federal permits, and providing construction assistance to the Diversion Authority, until Minnesota has completed its environmental review, and has had an opportunity to explore the implications of our analysis with the Corps and the State of North Dakota. This is a long-term project, which will have lasting impacts. It is essential that established laws and processes be followed to assess those impacts.
cc: Senator Amy Klobuchar
Senator Al Franken
Congressman Collin Peterson
Congresswoman Betty McCollum
Congressman John Kline
Congressman Tim Walz
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann
Congressman Keith Ellison
Congressman Erik Paulsen
Congressman Rick Nolan
Governor Jack Dalrymple, North Dakota
Lt. General Thomas Bostick, Chief of Engineers,
US Army Corps of Engineers
Mr. Shaun Donovan, Director, Office of Management & Budget,
The White House