FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The manager for the city of Fargo said Thursday the decision by the U.S. House of Representatives to authorize the Red River diversion gives the flood protection project momentum, but it still needs support from congressional delegations in two states.
The House late Wednesday passed a water projects bill that includes plans for the nearly $2 billion diversion around Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., which has battled major flooding in four of the last five years. The Senate passed its version of the bill in May.
Although federal funding for the project remains a question mark, authorization puts it "on the downward side of the hill," said Pat Zavoral, the Fargo city administrator.
"It was a high hurdle, but we've got one high hurdle to go," he said. "It would be easier if it was just the North Dakota delegation, but it's the Minnesota delegation too, and they're getting pressure all the time."
Authorization technically allows construction to begin, but the federal funding would need to be appropriated each year to cover the construction costs, which would be shared by local, state and federal governments.
Proponents say the 36-mile diversion is needed to protect Fargo-area residents, who last year spent about $3 million in flood protection measures even though the crest wound up lower than expected. The diversion has drawn strong opposition from upstream farmers, homeowners and businesses, who don't like the idea of a staging area that would be needed to hold water in times of serious flooding.
Nathan Berseth, spokesman for a group of upstream residents who have filed a federal lawsuit against the Corps of Engineers over the project, said Thursday he thinks it will be difficult to advance the project among the committee of House and Senate members.
"When you get down to what the House wants and what the Senate wants, it could still be pulled out of conference," Berseth said. "Authorization was not a big surprise. They did it in the dark of night basically. They wanted to slip something through so they could say they did something."