Governor Jack Dalrymple got it right when he said “we will match state dollars with federal and local cost shares.” The governor was speaking of what the state was willing to do to support the proposed Fargo Diversion project. Dalrymple was pulled into the most recent fray between the Diversion Authority (DA) and the State of Minnesota. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton issued a statement saying “Flood relief which would greatly benefit North Dakota, and damage property in Minnesota, is unacceptable, as are attempts to override our state’s environmental review procedures.”
The DA has gone ahead with construction of a ring dike around Hickson-Oxbow-Bakke, a feature of the diversion project, without waiting for approval from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The DA has maintained in court documents that they don’t need any approvals from Minnesota despite the fact that their upstream communities will need to be ring diked, and almost 20,000 acres of that state’s farmland will be inundated when the dam and diversion are in operation. Minnesota was recently granted a request to join in a lawsuit filed by upstream residents. They want to be able to refute claims that they don’t have authority over their state’s waters.
The Fargo Forum attacked Dalrymple for not rushing to the defense of the DA in their growing battle with their neighbor to the east. Yet the governor simply took the position handed him by the legislature. They said North Dakota won’t become the sole partner of Fargo in funding the $2 billion federal project. In the last session, the DA told North Dakota legislators that Minnesota was going to help pay for the diversion. Right now, neither Minnesota nor federal money seems likely. The DA has gone out of their way to antagonize everyone touching the purse strings of the Gopher state, and the project’s benefit/cost ratio falls below what would normally be funded by the federal government which has a $20 trillion debt.
North Dakota legislators can expect to be courted by DA officials this winter, asking to get their hands on state funding conditionally granted last session. They’ll want the conditions lifted. Fargo officials recently announced they want to double the amount of the local assessment district so they can attract a private partner to finance diversion construction. Assessments applied to local property would serve as a bond to attract the partner. It won’t work. Regional diversion projects designed by the US Army Corps of Engineers have doubled in cost, and take years longer to complete than forecast. Someone will have to pay the partner back if the federal government never appropriates the money. The state of North Dakota could become embroiled in a boondoggle with no end in sight.
The governor got it right. North Dakota shouldn’t get trapped in a spiral of spending and litigation for a project that is opposed by a large number of its own residents and its neighbors. Fargo must live by the rules they asked for in the last session.