Despite not having all permits required for the work, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is starting work this week on the first leg of the controversial $2.1 billion Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion project. According to Corps spokesperson Shannan Bauer, Ames Construction of Burnsville, Minnesota was performing pre-construction studies near Horace, North Dakota yesterday.
The Red River has exceeded flood stage in 49 of the past 110 years, including every year from 1993 through 2011, and again in 2013. In an effort to control the flooding, the Corps is building a $46 million inlet structure to reduce the impact on the Fargo-Moorhead metro area by limiting the flow of flood water into a 36-mile long, 1,500 foot-wide diversion channel around Fargo on the North Dakota side of the river.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said in October that it would not grant a permit for the dam because the agency believed the plan is flawed. Opponents say there are better options for flood control because during serious flooding farmland south of the Fargo-Moorhead area would be inundated with water.
Upstream residents and landowners represented by the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority filed suit in 2013 against the Corps and Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which has said it won’t issue a dam permit for the project, also joined the suit.
U.S. District Judge John R. Tunheim earlier dismissed all complaints against the corps, leaving the Diversion Authority the sole defendant. The corps noted that the judge had recognized that, as a federal agency, it’s immune to state regulations. In fact, the agency never applied for the dam permit; it was the Diversion Authority that applied.
However, because the corps is going ahead on the inlet structure, the Richland -Wilkin group and the DNR have asked Tunheim to bring the corps back into the lawsuit. They argued that when the judge dismissed complaints against the corps, the DNR had not refused to issue a permit and the corps had not signed a contract to start work on the inlet structure. Judge Tunheim has not yet made a decision.