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The chairman of the Flood Diversion Board of Authority has updated the North Dakota Legislative Budget Section regarding funding for the F-M Area Diversion Project.

Darrell Vanyo provided updates on Wednesday, September 24 to Committee members on the status of the Project’s political, financial and technical tracts.

Political Tract

Of the recent Presidential authorization of the Diversion Project, as specified in the Water Resource Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), Vanyo said, “Critics will talk about the backlog of authorized Corps projects, but this water authorization bill was the first one passed into law in seven years. On top of that, the F-M Diversion was specifically named in the law as one of only 26 water projects nationwide. Also, WRRDA de-authorized many out of date projects that were previously on the books, making the path smoother for appropriating funds for newly authorized projects.”

Work is also underway to resolve unique challenges posed by the Diversion Project being a “border project”, one that is sponsored locally by entities in both North Dakota and Minnesota. “I am sure you have heard in the news about the comments made by Minnesota Governor Dayton,” Vanyo said.  “After a lot of discussion and back and forth, we are working on a number of agreements and compromises that the North Dakota and Minnesota members of our board think address the concerns expressed by Governor Dayton. These compromises will alter and slow down some aspects of the Project, but will still allow the Project to progress as Minnesota finishes their environmental impact assessment.”

Vanyo continued, “In North Dakota, we have been in close communication with Governor Dalrymple and the State Water Commission. The Diversion Authority attends and provides an update at every regular meeting of the Commission. We greatly appreciate this involvement and review of the Project by the State of North Dakota. Just last week, we were pleased that the State Water Commission unanimously approved the cost-share agreement and the Diversion Authority budget.”

Financial Tract

Next, Vanyo provided a financial update on the Diversion Project. “This Project is a massive civil works undertaking with a lot of moving parts and financial interests. We worked closely with you and the rest of the legislative body last session to solidify the State’s share of the Project at $450 million,” Vanyo said. “To date, North Dakota has allocated $175 million and, through legislative intent, a plan to allocate the remaining $275 million over the next four biennium.”

“Our budgets are $211 million in 2015 and over $300 million in 2016,” Vanyo continued. “Over the next biennium, our efforts will focus primarily on construction of in-town levees and the ring-levee around the City of Oxbow and surrounding communities of Bakke and Hickson. In addition, there are funds allocated to begin land acquisitions along the northern sections of the diversion channel so that construction can begin efficiently and expediently when funds and permits become available.”

Vanyo concluded his financial update by saying, “These are purposely aggressive budgets. Flooding is the number one issue facing our region. After five years of intensive study of the alternatives, costing tens of millions of dollars, we have done the due diligence and are ready to start building the flood protection our citizens need and deserve.”

Technical Tract

The final portion of Vanyo’s update to the North Dakota Legislative Budget Section covered the Project’s technical progress. He began by recognizing the Project’s impacts. “We have completed an extremely thorough technical study and development process, and we are confident in the Project that has been developed. That confidence in the Project is unwavering, but that does not make all the decisions easy,” said Vanyo. “Governor Dayton made several comments when he was in town a few weeks ago. One of them was that you cannot do a Project of this magnitude without someone being impacted in a way they won’t be happy with. Unfortunately, he could not be more right. The challenge we face is to find a way to lessen those impacts and to treat those ultimately impacted with fairness and respect.”

“Flood protection for the Fargo metro area cannot be accomplished without creating impacts on land elsewhere. There is simply too much water,” Vanyo continued. “The design of this Project has been altered and refined many times over several years to determine how best to accommodate this.”

Vanyo then referred to the Staging Area of the Project, and explained why it is an is an integral part of the Project that makes flood protection possible for the metro area by eliminating impacts downstream. “This Staging Area is not a reservoir of water, but a temporary water retention feature. In large flood events, it will hold back water for a week and a half. The Staging Area will only operate in events larger than a 35-foot flood at the Fargo gage. For those of you who are not as familiar with our local levels, once it gets to 30-feet it is considered at a Major Flood Stage.”

The staging of water would only happen at the peak of flooding, which usually occurs in March and April before planting begins. Even so, the existence of the Staging Area does create a set of challenges that need to be addressed. “Landowners in the Staging Area will be financially compensated through acquisition of a flowage easement. The land in the Staging Area can and will continue to be farmed,” Vanyo said. “The potential of additional water caused by a man made structure does create problems with federal crop insurance. Due to this, the Diversion Authority has committed to a supplemental crop insurance program that would allow operators on the land access to the same type of coverage available today. The supplemental crop insurance program would pick up when federal crop insurance become unavailable.”

Other mitigation efforts are underway, as well. 700 homes in the metro area have already been acquired and removed for flood protection. Mitigation plans for the remaining impacted residences in the Staging Area continue to progress. “We need to do the most good for the most people. But in doing so, we need to treat those impacted with respect and financially compensate them adequately for those impacts,” Vanyo said. “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.”

Vanyo concluded his presentation with a recognition that the hardships facing all involved are rooted in one thing: the problem of flooding. “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,” Vanyo said. “This Project has a number of challenges ahead of it, but there are more of them behind us. Today, we are closer than ever to achieving permanent flood protection for 200,000 people.”

Document Available for Download

Download the complete document comprising Vanyo’s testimony to the North Dakota Legislative Budget Section, which includes a Project Map and more detailed analysis of the necessity of the Staging Area.