Red River diversion opponents hoping for help from courts
FARGO, N.D. — Opponents of a proposed Red River diversion project around the Fargo metropolitan area said Friday they are turning their focus to their legal battle after seeing most of their alternatives rejected by state and federal regulators.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources held a public meeting Wednesday to outline their environmental review of the channel, which would require a holding area that would flood upstream farmland in Minnesota and North Dakota. The DNR report, which is expected to be finalized in the spring, essentially backs the project and eliminates ideas by opponents such as retention and tiling.
Paul Marquart, a Minnesota state representative from Dilworth who attended the meeting, said his constituents whose property would be flooded by the diversion are disappointed but not surprised by the DNR report. He added that the process is a long way from completion.
"I do think they think this can be won in court," Marquart said Friday.
A federal judge on Friday scheduled a Nov. 16 hearing for oral arguments on the complaint by diversion opponents that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to follow environmental law when it analyzed the upstream effects of the diversion. A ruling would likely take several months.
Robert Cattanach, an attorney representing the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority, was in court Friday and not available for comment.
The Fargo-Moorhead area has dealt with major Red River floods several times in recent years, including a record-setting crest in 2009 when leaders considered whether to evacuate the town during a frantic sandbagging effort. Diversion backers have said they believe they can break ground on the channel in 2016.
Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said Friday he believes it's time to sit down with upstream residents even as the lawsuit "sits and percolates in the courts." He said his constituents are growing weary of the legal wrangling.
"This is silly not to at least getting some discussions going," Mahoney said. "As we go along, it is now a matter of working with the upstream people to find some kind of middle ground, to help compensate the farmers, to do what we can do to make it more palatable."