Monday, December 11, 2017 - 12:00pm

FARGO, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum today stressed the critical importance of securing permanent protection against catastrophic flooding for the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, urging officials to build on the momentum of the F-M Area Flood Diversion Task Force after the group concluded its fifth and final meeting.

Burgum expressed deep gratitude to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and the 16 members of the Task Force – eight from each state – for their diligent work on the stalled project since the governors appointed them Oct. 18 and the first meeting was held Oct. 23.

“This has really been an exercise in the art of the possible. Assembling this group of dedicated citizens with diverse viewpoints to reach consensus on a massive flood protection project was a historic undertaking, and we’ve come a long way since that first meeting just seven weeks ago,” Burgum said. “The recommendations being forwarded to the F-M Diversion Authority lay the groundwork for achieving our goals of achieving 100-year certified flood protection, retaining federal authorization and identifying a potential path forward for a project that’s permittable by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).”

The Task Force was asked to review six key project components at today’s meeting. There appeared to be consensus around the implementation of tie-back retention levees and the amount of water allowed to pass through the cities’ center. The group remained divided over other questions focusing on the alignment of the embankment structures and the appropriate amount of downstream impacts. Of the alignments studied, the most popular option shifted the southern embankment north to the area between the Wild Rice and Red rivers. Other Task Force members expressed interest in combining various alignment proposals.

“The F-M metro area is a crucial economic engine for the entire state of North Dakota and western Minnesota, and its future rests on our ability to achieve a timely solution that protects lives, property and businesses from catastrophic flooding and eliminates the need for residents to buy costly flood insurance, not only for ourselves but for future generations,” Burgum said.

Burgum noted the original diversion project would protect nearly 95 percent of Cass County’s residents, including 50 percent of its rural residents, while also providing certainty to the Fargo-West Fargo area, which last year accounted for 17 percent of North Dakota’s taxable sales and purchases and currently has more than 30 percent of the state’s nearly 13,000 job openings.

Under the scenarios examined today, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the land in Richland and Wilkin counties would be included in the staging area for water held upstream of the diversion during a 100-year flood. If the diversion had been in place during the past 100 years, those areas would have been underwater a total of only 28 days – none of them during the growing season, based on historical data.

“The Task Force has done a commendable job addressing upstream and downstream concerns,” Burgum said. “We’re optimistic their work will mark an era of collaboration versus an era of litigation. Now, it’s up to the Diversion Authority to take the Task Force’s feedback and make every effort and modification necessary to achieve a permittable project.”

 “Again, we are extremely grateful for the participation by Gov. Dayton and DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, and we are committed to keeping this dialogue going and seeing this project through to a successful conclusion that addresses the interests of all involved,” Burgum added.

Burgum and Dayton agreed in October to create and co-chair the Task Force to try to address the Minnesota DNR’s concerns about the diversion project. Construction on the $2.2 billion project began last spring, but U.S. District Court Judge John A. Tunheim approved a temporary injunction on Sept. 7, ordering work to stop. The ruling recognized the need for permanent flood protection for Fargo-Moorhead and strongly encouraged all parties to work together to agree on a project that can serve the interests of both states and the affected communities.

A final report from the Task Force, noting areas of consensus and differing viewpoints, will be submitted in the coming weeks to the Diversion Authority, which could choose to reapply to the DNR for a project permit.