The governors of Minnesota and North Dakota announced Wednesday that they’re creating a task force to address the stalemate over a proposed Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project, a massive endeavor that has pitted the two states against each other.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will lead the joint body. It will include eight Minnesotans and eight from North Dakota, and aim to address concerns of residents both upstream and downstream along the Red River. Dayton said he doesn’t want the process to drag on and expects the group will take no longer than two months.
“Everybody says they want flood protection for Fargo-Moorhead and the surrounding region,” Dayton said following a private meeting with Burgum. “How we get there is, of course, the devil is always in the details. But there’s broad agreement ... to get this satisfactorily resolved.”
Construction began last spring on the $2.1 billion project, led by the Army Corps of Engineers and supported by several communities along the Red River. But last month, a federal judge halted construction, saying it couldn’t go forward without Minnesota’s approval.
The plan includes a ring dike around three small North Dakota towns, a 36-mile diversion channel and a high-hazard dam. It was designed to protect Fargo and Moorhead from the floods that have inundated towns up and down the Red River Valley in 51 of the past 113 years.
But Minnesota leaders want to explore other flood control options, saying that Minnesota would lose thousands of acres of farmland, while North Dakota would gain land for development around Fargo. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has refused to issue a permit for the dam, a key component of the plan.
On Wednesday, Dayton and Minnesota DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr met with residents in communities upstream and downstream from the site. Dayton said some residents felt their concerns hadn’t been heard until now. Dayton then met privately with Burgum in Moorhead.
“You have to look at this in a very open way; everything on the table again because, without a Minnesota permit, this project doesn’t go forward,” Burgum said, adding that the task force will need to consist of collaborative people. “We want to reinvent the solution here as opposed to try to defend something that has been denied.”