MOORHEAD, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday the notion that Minnesota and North Dakota residents who live upstream from a proposed Red River diversion project are being sacrificed for commercial development in Fargo has some merit. Backers of the project disagree, saying it is meant to protect the current residents.
Dayton spent two days in the southern Red River Valley talking mainly with people who are unhappy the proposal includes a massive holding area that would swamp farmland, cemeteries and buildings south of Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead during times of serious flooding. Opponents believe there's a cheaper plan that doesn't require a staging area.
Dayton said after Wednesday's meeting that Fargo authorities "pretty much acknowledged" they have rejected the small-town complaints in favor of expanding Fargo, and that's hurting the process.
"If you create the best possible working relationships, you are still going to have major challenges," Dayton said during a briefing. "If you don't create those working relationships, there's going to be just gridlock and I think deadlock."
Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo told Dayton during the meeting that the nearly $2 billion diversion was advanced by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect 200,000 current residents, not to spur development. Vanyo added the authority is not opposed to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources review that is at the center of the controversy.
"The corps of engineers does not take their marching orders from Fargo. The DNR does not take their marching orders from Fargo," Vanyo said. "So this is not something that is designed in a vacuum and then placed out there as though this is for the purpose of development for Fargo."
Dayton's comments create a "back and forth" that won't help the issue, either, Vanyo told The Associated Press.
"I don't know how he got that," Vanyo said.
Dayton asked Bryce Johnson, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Fargo-Moorhead, whether the staging area was creating "necessary insurance" for developers in southwestern Fargo, then cut her off when he said she wasn't "addressing the issue."
Dayton reiterated his objection to construction that's starting on a ring dike around residential areas south of Fargo — that would be located in the holding area — before the completion of the DNR environmental review. That sparked the state of Minnesota to join in a federal lawsuit filed by upstream residents and drew criticism from Dayton.
Vanyo and Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhoff said during the meeting they were told by the DNR there were no legal hurdles to the dike as long as it's built to 100-year flood protection.
Dayton afterward declined to comment about the explanation from Vanyo and Nyhoff about moving forward with construction on the dike.
"There are different views on what was behind that decision to proceed," the governor said. "It was very unwise to proceed outside the area of agreement."