Gov. Mark Dayton, who recently accused North Dakota officials of kicking sand in Minnesota's face, says it's time for the two sides to "forge a more constructive working relationship."
That relationship has been strained by a $2 billion flood control project that would protect Fargo from the flood-prone Red River of the North by sending floodwaters spilling across Minnesota farmland instead.
After several terse exchanges, the two sides sounded a more conciliatory note in recent days.
The officials in charge of the flood control project have pledged to halt most of their construction work until Minnesota completes a detailed environmental assessment of the project. In a letter Monday, Dayton said he hoped officials' "courteous sentiments" will be backed up by actions, like adding more Minnesotans to the nine-member board that is governing the project.
"As my Mother always told me, 'Actions speak louder than words,'" Dayton wrote in a letter to Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo. "The Authority's future actions will determine, far more than its words, whether better relations are established with parties and people who are now estranged from it. I hope that cooperation can be achieved."
Both sides agree that that there's a pressing need for flood control measures along the Red River, which has flooded 19 times in the past 21 years, causing millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses around bustling Fargo.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing a massive project that would dig a diversion ditch around Fargo and place a dam across the Red to back millions of gallons of floodwater into the prairie and farmland south of Fargo and Moorhead.
Congress has authorized the project, but Minnesota is holding off on approval until the DNR completes a lengthy environmental impact study of the diversion, which could cause flooding around Minnesota farms and communities that currently sit above the Red's natural flood plain.
When North Dakota forged ahead with plans to build a ring levee around several small North Dakota towns that would be in the path of the diverted floodwater, Minnesota officials took it as a slap at this state's regulatory authority.
"We...heard, loud and clear, your concern that we had not adequately respected Minnesota's process," Vanyo wrote in a letter to Dayton on Sept. 8. Initially, the diversion authority had argued that North Dakota has every right to undertake a construction project on its own soil without Minnesota's approval. "This certainly was not our intention."
Vanyo offered to scale down the levee construction around the North Dakota towns of Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke, to delay construction of the diversion channel around Fargo until Minnesota completes its environmental impact study and to add more regional representing to the diversion authority board which currently has only two Minnesotans among its nine members.
He also pledged to work to resolve the lawsuit that has been filed against the project -- and which the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has supported.
"We might not be able to agree on everything even after we take all of the steps I have outlined above," Vanyo wrote, "but I hope we can agree that we are all better served if we can obtain permanent flood control for our communities as soon as possible."
In response, Dayton thanked him for the offer to limit construction work for now, and pledged to compete the environmental study as quickly as possible. The state currently expects to complete the study in May 2015.
"I share your desire to forge a more constructive working relationship between the State of Minnesota and your Authority," Dayton wrote. "I wish you well with your expressed desire to put an end to that lawsuit."