Busy Months Ahead for Diversion Project on Several Fronts
Darrell Vanyo, Chairman of the Diversion Authority, provided an update to the North Dakota Water Topics Overview Committee on several key events tied to the Diversion Project.
Darrell Vanyo, Chairman of the Diversion Authority, provided an update to the North Dakota Water Topics Overview Committee on several key events tied to the Diversion Project.

Major events will occur in the next month that provide support for the FM Area Diversion Project and address several concerns. That was main message delivered in person earlier this month in Testimony to the North Dakota Water Topics Overview Committee by the Chairman of the Flood Diversion Board of Authority.

Federal Support

Chairman Darrell Vanyo told Committee members the Diversion Authority is preparing for a visit in September from Lieutenant General Thomas P. Bostick, the U.S. Army Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Lieutenant General Bostick serves as the senior military officer overseeing most of the nation’s civil works infrastructure and military construction.

Bostick will be discussing the Diversion Project with several stakeholders. “Due to the work that has been put into our Project and the financial backing from the State and local taxpayers, we are seen as one of the top flood risk reduction Projects in the whole country,” Vanyo told the Overview Committee.

Public Private Partnership (P3)

Vanyo continued by telling the Overview Committee that the Diversion Authority has been working closely with the Congressional Delegation and the Corps to respond to Congress’s charge to find new ways to complete projects like the Diversion Project. Chosen as a “Demonstration Project” by the Corps, the Diversion Authority has determined that a Public-Private­Partnership, or P3, is the best way to deliver part of the Project and maximize the value of the money spent.

In the next month, the Diversion Authority intends to issue a Notice of Intent that will clarify how the Authority will establish the P3 in an open and transparent way for all interested parties to obtain information in advance of the formal procurement process.

A P3 is collaboration between the public and private sector to efficiently and effectively deliver a project that has multi-generational benefits. This method of project delivery allows for innovation and optimizes the use of private sector technical expertise to significantly reduce the cost and time of project delivery.

It is important to note that prior to any procurement process starting, the Diversion Authority is committed to resolving three key issues: receiving a Determination of Adequacy from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) on the Minnesota Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a successful resolution of a federal lawsuit; and an appropriation and new construction start from Congress and the Corps.

Oxbow-Hickson-Bakke Ring Levee Project

With the support of Governor Dalrymple, the North Dakota legislature, and permits from the State Water Commission and Corps, the Diversion Authority started construction of the Oxbow-Hickson-Bakke (OHB) ring levee in 2014. About a quarter of the ring levee has been completed.

The ring levee will ultimately provide Oxbow with protection from both natural flood risks and, later on, temporarily-stored water due to future operation of the Diversion Project. The Diversion Authority had planned to complete another $10 million of construction this summer, but a federal Judge issued a preliminary injunction that stopped physical construction of the levee this past spring until the MN EIS is complete.

“We have complied with the injunction order and recently received clarification from the Judge that we are still able to proceed with mitigation related to property acquisitions and home relocations,” said Vanyo. “The injunction was narrow in scope and only related to levee work. All other Diversion-related activities were not impacted. Litigation is an unfortunate result when two parties come to an impasse, but the court is there to resolve these types of disputes and in the end, we will continue to move forward towards permanent flood protection the people need and deserve.”

NDSU Agricultural Income Impact Study

The Diversion Authority has been working with the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Agribusiness and Applied Economics Department for over a year on identifying and quantifying the farming income impacts resulting from the temporary staging of water due to the operation of the Diversion Project.

Last legislative session, the legislature approved of this effort and increased the scope of it by $80,000. The Diversion Authority expects to have initial results within the coming months and anticipates results from the expanded study well ahead of the Sept. 1, 2016 deadline set by the legislature.

The study will determine the farm income impacts associated with operation of the Diversion Project. It includes the development of a detailed model that incorporates all of the complex variables that affect farm income such as fall moisture, spring moisture, temperature, flood frequency, flood duration, etc.

The study will determine the annualized farm income impacts for 98 regions within the staging area. “This incredibly detailed study will give policy makers information they need to consider mitigation policies that compensate for the potential loss of income during extreme flood events. I also hope this study gives some comfort to those farmers who will be impacted by letting them know definitively the scope of the impacts,” said Vanyo.

The Diversion Authority will continue to work closely with the State Water Commission, and the Diversion Authority’s local Agricultural Policy Subcommittee, to review the results and create future policy around them.

Other Mitigation

In addition to the OHB ring levee and farm income impacts, the Diversion Authority is completing mitigation and developing policy for future mitigation efforts. Mitigation has been a top priority of the Diversion Authority and its member entities.

Home buyouts are a common form of mitigation. In recent years, approximately 500 homes have been removed in Fargo, Moorhead, Cass County, and Clay County to provide flood protection for the metro area.

“In addition to home buyouts, which are costly and impactful to people, we have looked for ways to provide ring levees to keep communities intact like we are doing in Oxbow-Hickson-Bakke and will potentially do in Comstock, MN,” Vanyo told the Committee. “Where possible, we have also started to look at the feasibility of providing individual ring levees for some farmsteads within the staging area of the Project on a case-by-case basis.”

Another issue that was discussed last legislative session, and has been the subject of a lot of effort locally, is the impact to several cemeteries and how those impacts might be mitigated. A Corps report was released in June detailing the federal mitigation requirements and the potential mitigation options for each site, none of which involve moving cemeteries. The Diversion Authority is planning to create a local group to review those options with the cemetery representatives after the Minnesota EIS is completed.

Budget

Regarding the funding appropriated for the Diversion Project, Vanyo expressed his deepest thanks to the Water Topics Overview Committee.

“The support we have received from you in past sessions has been incredible,” Vanyo told Committee members. “To date, the State has appropriated $244 million and has committed to $450 million in total. The State Water Commission has reimbursed $76 million worth of expenses so far, leaving approximately $167 million left over. This is a lot of money, but with the work plan we have before us on the Diversion Project, it will be utilized to its fullest soon we hope. In addition to these reimbursed expenses, the Diversion Authority has spent $127 million to date, which has been funded locally thanks to two voter-approved sales taxes.”

Moving Forward

Vanyo concluded his remarks by addressing the large scope of the Diversion Project and the flood protection it will provide.

“I try to keep the problem at the forefront of my mind,” said Vanyo. “We need to reduce and remove the flood risk for the Fargo metro area. We need to do the most good for the most people. But in doing so, we need to treat those impacted with respect and mitigate and compensate them adequately for those impacts. I commit to you that we will continue to address the concerns I know you have heard. These answers do not always come as quick as some would like, but work on them continues to progress and we will get there.

“I would like to thank you for the part you have played in this Project. Our constituents have been through a lot of floods. A lot of people have lost their homes, their livelihoods, and that additional stress of flooding has had a great impact on their lives. This Project has a number of challenges ahead of it, but there are more of them behind us,” Vanyo concluded. “Today, we are closer than ever to achieving permanent flood protection for 200,000 people.”

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