Several questions have arisen about why construction is underway on the Oxbow-Hickson-Bakke (OHB) Levee project, even though the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has not yet completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) study on the entire F-M Area Diversion Project.
The OHB Levee project will independently provide approximately 200 residences in North Dakota with increased flood protection. The Levee will provide 500-year flood protection for the Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke communities, and will protect them from water that would be stored upstream of Fargo-Moorhead by the Diversion Project.
The Diversion Authority is committed to mitigating the impacts from the operation of the Diversion Project. The OHB Levee is just one mitigation aspect of the larger Diversion Project that is progressing. Work continues on other mitigation efforts, including impacts to farmland, cemeteries, and structures.
There are several additional reasons why the Diversion Authority concluded that proceeding with construction on the OHB Levee project was necessary, appropriate, and legal:
1. The Diversion Authority has obtained all the required permits to construct the OHB Levee. The governmental body with jurisdiction where the Levee is being constructed, the North Dakota State Water Commission, issued a construction permit for the Levee project on June 19. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a similar permit June 20. The contractor received the construction notice to proceed on June 23, and began constructing the OHB Levee on that date.
2. State and local funds are paying for the OHB Levee project. The project is being fully funded through funds appropriated by the North Dakota legislature and through local sales tax revenue in Cass County and Fargo. No Minnesota entity, including any Minnesota member of the Diversion Authority, will provide funding for the ring dike.
3. Property owners in the Oxbow/Hickson/Bakke area were in limbo and deserved to be made whole. As Darrell Vanyo, Diversion Authority Chairman, said while speaking to the North Dakota Water Topics Overview Committee in June: “Early on in the project discussion, a plan was put forward to acquire these communities in full. In response to public objections, the plan was modified to include a ring levee that would allow these communities to remain intact.”
In January 2013, Jim Nyhof, Oxbow Mayor, told upstream-area landowners: “One of our big goals of this whole project and this whole analysis of the ring levee process was to eliminate that limbo and return marketability back to the homes in Oxbow. This gives us a great opportunity today to get to 500-year flood protection for the City of Oxbow, and some protection for the residents who are in the footprint of the levee. This puts an end to the limbo and puts marketability back to our community.”
4. The Kindred School District tax base needed to be restored. As Vanyo told the North Dakota Water Topics Overview Committee in June: “The Diversion Authority committed to accelerating this work to remove the uncertainty that had impacted the real estate market and threatened the tax base of the Kindred School District. We are pleased to report that once the decision was made to protect these communities, we have witnessed a very positive turn around in the real estate marked and houses are again being purchased in these communities at market prices.”
5. Waiting leads to inflation. Construction costs rise with each passing year.
The OHB Levee project has no impact on the river levels in Minnesota, though the project is included as a mitigation feature of the Diversion Project in the MDNR’s EIS study. The study is expected to be completed sometime in 2015. The DNR needs to complete the EIS in order to identify any environmental effects that should be addressed by the Diversion Project.