DNR Lawsuit Blocks Flood Protection Project

MOORHEAD, Minn. – On Thursday a federal judge ordered a full stop to work being done constructing a flood diversion project to protect the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area.

The order bans any further progress on the $2.2 billion project in an area consistently under threat of flooding, reports the Duluth News Tribune. The project includes a diversion channel and a dam spanning the Red River, and construction will be halted up until such time as the lawsuit is finally resolved.

While the diversion channel would be contained entirely within North Dakota, the dam would cross the river and into Minnesota. This high-hazard dam was denied a permit for construction by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in October, reports WCCO. DNR Commissioner believes there are better options for flood control, and that the plan failed to include proper plans to deal with impacts to the river upstream.

While North Dakota has cleared all aspects of the project to go ahead, that permit rejection became a sticking point in the court decision. John R. Tunheim, chief judge in the District of Minneapolis, ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers must receive a permit through normal procedures, in spite of its status as a federal agency, reports the Duluth News Tribune. The Corps claimed this exempts them from state environmental regulations, but Tunheim ruled that Congress waived this exemption by ordering the Corps to follow state laws.

The Corps now also argues that even if this is the case, construction on the dam should not be halted entirely. No work on the project is expected to be conducted within Minnesota until at least 2019, reports WCCO.

Delays can be expensive as well. Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney told the Duluth News Tribune that each year of delays will increase the total cost of the flood diversion project by an estimated $60 million annually. While Mahoney said he would have to consult with the Army Corps of Engineers, he expects an appeal will be quickly forthcoming in an effort to minimize the financial impact this decision will have on the project.

Anders Koskinen