Posted December 6, 2018
The proposed Fargo-Moorhead Diversion is now expected to cost $2.75 billion. A new estimate for the flood diversion project was announced Monday, Dec. 3 by the Diversion Authority Board.
Changes in Plan B’s design, modifications to utility relocations, updating costs to 2018 dollars and revised contingencies were all cited as reasons for the estimate increase. The last estimate was reported as between $2.2 billion and $2.4 billion.
“The costs are based on the project submitted to the (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) and is subject to revisions once final approvals are obtained,” stated the Diversion Authority. “With the approximately $430 million works completed to date, $2.33 billion in project costs remain.”
Richland County, North Dakota, and Wilkin County, Minnesota, through a joint powers authority, have been involved in a lawsuit against the F-M Diversion for several years. They’re facing the Diversion Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“It’s a game of ‘The Price is Right,’” Richland County Commissioner Nathan Berseth said. “The Army Corps, however, apparently isn’t under the guidelines of being under budget or even staying on the budget. They face no repercussions.”
Because of that, Berseth continued, North Dakota and especially Fargo taxpayers will be left holding the bag. There is a growing resistance to the project, he claimed.
“If they knew the true and full cost, nobody would be for this. There are less and less people supporting this every day. If everyone knew the true cost, you could fit the number of supporters in a phone booth,” Berseth added.
The Diversion Authority’s updated funding plan includes a combination of current and proposed commitments. Should all be met, the $2.75 billion breaks down as:
• $1,044 million from local sponsors funded through existing sales taxes
• $870 million from the state of North Dakota ($570 million in existing funding and $300 million in new funding)
• $750 million from the federal government ($450 million in existing funding and $300 million in new funding)
• $86 million from the state of Minnesota ($43 million requested for continued work in-town to pay for Plan B changes in Minnesota; $43 million for the project itself)
Monday’s latest estimate reflects the $600 million in anticipated new funding, the Fargo Forum reported.
The Corps has the authority it needs to provide the increased funding without passing additional legislation, said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. This is possible because of authorization he secured in the 2014 Water Resources Development Act.
“The steps we’ve taken will help keep this project moving forward and deliver this much-needed flood protection infrastructure for the region,” Hoeven continued.
Tim Fox, counsel to the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority, said he would be terrified if he lived in the Fargo metroplex. He’s certain residents will be making special assessment payments for a long time and that the final cost will be well over $275 billion.
“This has never been and never will be a financially solid project,” Fox said. “It can’t and it won’t pay for itself.”
Mayor Del Rae Williams, Moorhead, chairs the Diversion Authority board. She said the diversion would provide protection for several generations.
“It’s a big price tag, but it’s worth it when you add up what a devastating flood would cost,” Williams said.
Diversion opponents, meanwhile, question whether supporters are giving all their information on costs. Attorney Cash Aaland, Fargo, recalled how a buyout and ring levy in Oxbow, North Dakota, ended up costing $135 million. That was more than double the original projection.
“How are they going to bid a multi-billion dollar project when they’ve been so wrong in the past?” Aaland asked. “It’s more than just negligence and incompetence. I believe they’re purposely lowballing (estimates) to move this through. They’ve done that since the beginning.”
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which denied the Diversion Authority’s previous permit application in October 2016, is expected to soon decide on the next application. A decision will likely come in late December or early January, the DNR said Friday, Nov. 30.
“The past permit denial made it clear. There has to be state and local permits for this to proceed,” Aaland said.
Diversion opponents are doubtful the DNR will grant a full permit for the Diversion Authority. They expect a conditional permit will be contested by Minnesota jurisdictions including Wilkin County, the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District and Holy Cross Township.