A bill providing $69 million for the FM Area Diversion Project has crossed-over to the North Dakota House after the Senate version was approved in February by a unanimous vote of 46-0.

On March 19, Tim Mahoney, Fargo Mayor and member of the Diversion Authority, attended a hearing at the North Dakota State Capitol, where he thanked members of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee for their continued support of the Diversion Authority’s flood protection efforts. Mahoney also asked the members for a “Do-Pass” recommendation for Senate Bill 2020 (SB2020), which is the legislation that carries the Governor’s budget for the State Water Commission and contains funding for water projects across the State.

The Diversion Project has received $175 million from past legislative appropriations and is in this year’s funding allocation for $69 million. This level of funding is consistent with the legislative commitment and schedule made last session to provide a total of $450 million from the state.

During his presentation, Mayor Mahoney provided the Appropriations Committee with highlights of some of the efforts currently underway by the Diversion Authority.

Local Efforts

“A lot of work has taken place locally to acquire land necessary for the Diversion Project, to mitigate the impacts of the Project, and to build levees in-town that are a necessary piece of the operation of the Project,” said Mahoney.

To date, there have been approximately 63 parcels of land and structures that are in the process of being acquired. As of March 1st, approximately a third of those parcels has been purchased or is pending final details. A majority of these parcels are in the City of Oxbow, ND to provide that community with flood protection and to mitigate the impacts of the larger Diversion Project, with others being within the City of Fargo; or, as in the case of several landowners who have approached the Diversion Authority for opportunistic acquisitions, along the foot print of the diversion route. This makes up approximately 3,000 total acres of land.

“It is anticipated that the second of four phases of the Oxbow ring levee will be bid and constructed in 2015 at a cost of approximately $10 million,” said Mahoney. “This entails mostly work on local drainage features as land and homes are acquired to make way for future levee work in 2016 and finalized in 2017.”

In Fargo, during the 2015 construction season, major utility relocation will be undertaken downtown between 6th Ave. N. and 2nd Ave. S., with flood wall construction planned for 2016. Total cost of the Diversion-related flood protection work in Fargo is estimated to be $76 million, of which half of the funds will be paid from the state allocation.

“An additional $234 million is still needed to complete other flood protection outside of direct Diversion-related activities to protect Fargo residents from FEMA flood insurance elevations currently being studied by that federal agency,” Mahoney said. “All of that work is complimentary to the Diversion Project and increases the protection level it provides.”

State Efforts

Current efforts at the State level are seeking the additional funding from the Appropriations Committee. “We are also working with the State Water Commission on the coordination of the existing appropriated funds to be directed at eligible activities. As we move forward, we will be working closely together on the permits required by state law,” said Mahoney.

The Diversion staff and appointed bodies are also working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to complete that state’s required Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on the Diversion Project. To date, the Diversion members have contributed more than $2 million toward this effort and, while there have been delays in that process, the Diversion Authority is still hopeful the process will be completed in 2015.

Federal Efforts

Diversion staff and appointed members are working closely with the North Dakota Congressional delegation and the Corps of Engineers to develop the most effective financing and implementation for the Diversion Project. The Corps has identified the Diversion Project as a “demonstration project” as it looks for ways to modernize its efforts and more effectively construct the Project.

“This approach is bringing new ideas to this federal agency to assist them in freeing up federal funds and accelerate the construction of this project through the use of private financing, design and construction of a project known as P3,” said Mahoney. Under the public/private partnership (P3) plan being considered, the Diversion Authority would contract with a private company to build the channel portion of the Diversion Project while the Corps constructs the Southern Embankment. (See a map illustrating the plan)

Through the leadership of the North Dakota delegation, this new approach by the Corps was written into the 2014 federal legislation for water development as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. Similar efforts are now being discussed for funding legislation in 2015.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee took no action on the hearing and will continue its work over the next few weeks of the legislative session.