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Published August 26, 2010, 05:41 PM

Red River Diversion Plan on Schedule

Congressional representatives from North Dakota and Minnesota say a possible delay in completing a Red River diversion study won't set back the project as some local officials fear.

By: Dave Kolpack, Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Congressional representatives from North Dakota and Minnesota say a possible delay in completing a Red River diversion study won't set back the project as some local officials fear.

The Army Corps of Engineers has said it may need to extend the timeline to study technical issues and review complaints about the $1.5 billion plan. The current schedule calls for a feasibility study to be ready by December for a recommendation to Congress, which is expected to approve a major water projects bill next year for the first since 2002.

Rep. James Oberstar, the Minnesota Democrat who heads a House committee that authorizes flood control projects, told local officials Thursday that not only is the diversion project on track, it's strong enough to be a stand-alone bill.

"What I've seen is not troubling, from my experience with a project of this nature nationwide," Oberstar said.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy, a North Dakota Democrat, said afterward that the diversion is a complicated issue and will get done as quickly as possible.

"Deadlines are helpful for moving the project forward," Pomeroy said. "But this project's not going to be made or killed by virtue of a date on the calendar."

Residents in the Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., area have dealt with major flooding in the last two years, including a record crest in 2009. Hundreds of homes have been damaged but thousands of homes have been spared by massive sandbagging efforts.

A diversion is not expected to be completed for 10 years.

The corps has received hundreds of comments from the public, most of which are critical of the plan. Residents who live downstream of the north-flowing river are worried about preliminary studies showing that the diversion would increase water levels in their communities.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said engineers are studying ways to help downstream residents.

"Some people feel they're not in the loop. ... I think that's just small as far as I'm concerned," he told the group. "We have the best minds working on it."

Diane Ista of Ada, Minn., a member of the Red River Downstream Impact Work Group, said her group has spent $25,000 to publicize their complaints.

"That came out of our pockets to make sure we're going to be heard," Ista said after the meeting. "We understand Fargo-Moorhead needs flood protection. But let's resolve this. Don't call me small."

Walaker told the group Oberstar knows more about the project than most people.

"The process is really ebb and flow. It's like the winds of North Dakota," he said afterward. "I feel good today. I didn't feel so good yesterday."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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