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Diversion backers, opponents react to federal funding bill

FARGO, N.D. — Supporters and opponents of a planned Red River diversion channel around the flood-prone Fargo area have scheduled meetings within an hour of each other Tuesday to discuss recently announced federal funding for the project.

Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer is the only member of the North Dakota congressional delegation planning to attend both. He still thinks it's possible to make both sides happy.

"It's safe to say I've probably been the member of the delegation who has been the most open to ... working toward more of a consensus solution," Cramer said Monday. "I continue to sort of be that."

The first meeting, at Fargo City Hall, will be led by North Dakota Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp. They say the spending bill passed last week includes "critical" extra funding for flood control, authorization for new projects and priority for plans that include public and private resources, such as the diversion.

The second meeting is set for the Knickerbocker Liquor Locker in Hickson, which is part of an area that, under the proposed diversion, would become a massive holding pond to keep back water in times of serious flooding. Cramer is joining Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who organized the gathering with members of an upstream coalition who believe there are better ways to control flooding than inundating precious farmland and structures.


While Cramer has supported federal funding and flexibility for the diversion, he said nothing has been finalized.

"I don't necessarily like to be the wet blanket, but this has not been funded. There is nothing in there that says the Fargo diversion is federally funded," Cramer said.

Other hurdles remain. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources still needs to sign off on the holding area and a federal judge is deciding the merits of a lawsuit filed by upstream detractors. Richland County Commissioner Nathan Berseth, part of the opposing group, said the delegation should have waited until the lawsuit was settled before pushing for authorization.

"It's disheartening that we have two U.S. senators that are fighting for funding for this project and yet some of their constituents are tied up in a lawsuit over it," Berseth said.

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