Congress is nearing final passage of a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which is expected to contain authorization for the F-M Area Diversion Project. A bipartisan conference is currently working to reconcile the differences between the two versions of the bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate with overwhelming support earlier this year.
Both versions authorize construction to begin on the Diversion Project. The conference committee's work would be one of the last steps before final votes occur on a revised bill which would be submitted to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.
In addition to authorizing the Diversion project, the legislation offers a comprehensive plan for improving the country's flood-control projects and modernizing ports and waterways.
Funding Ensures Continued Momentum on Diversion Project
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2014 work plan includes $6.3 million to complete the planning, engineering and design (PED) of the Project.
Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp made the announcement in March. In Fiscal Year 2013, Hoeven, a member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, worked with colleagues on the committee and Heitkamp pushed the Administration to ensure that $7.4 million in funding was allocated for project development and design. Both made sure that a similar amount of funding was appropriated in FY 2014 for the Diversion Project, as well as funding for other flood control and recovery projects.
Hoeven and Heitkamp, along with representatives from the Diversion Authority, have met frequently with top officials from the Army Corps of Engineers to press them to include funding for the Diversion in the Corps’ work plan. Discussions were also held with U.S. Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell regarding funding for permanent flood protection in the Red River Valley.
Col. Daniel C. Koprowski, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, has signed documents which detail proposed improvements and modifications to the Diversion Project. The documents update the Supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA), which focused on the proposed changes to the project since the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) dated July, 2011.
The modifications include:
(1) Diversion channel modifications, including alignment shifts and channel cross-section modifications;
(2) The addition of levees and floodwalls in downtown Fargo;
(3) A ring levee around the communities of Oxbow, Hickson, and Bakke, ND;
(4) The addition of gates to the diversion inlet.
The Supplemental Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was prepared and coordinated in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The environmental review indicated that while the proposed modifications would result in some changes in the location, timing and magnitude of effects on some resources, the overall types and scope of impacts would not be an appreciable change from what was described in the EIS. An amended Clean Water Act Section 404(b)(1) evaluation was also prepared as part of the EA process. After final review of the comments received on the EA, the Corps made minor modifications to the documents. The Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and the Clean Water Act Section 404(b)(1)Evaluation Supplement were signed by the District Engineer, Colonel Koprowski, on September 19.
Robust Construction Schedule Leads to Short Relocation Timeline in Oxbow
The federal appraisal process has begun on properties in the Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke, ND area which are affected by plans for a ring levee around the communities. The ring levee has an independent utility and will provide the communities with 500-year flood protection. In addition, the ring levee will protect the communities from water that would be stored upstream of Fargo-Moorhead as part of the F-M Area Diversion Project's operation.
Due to some of the properties needing to be relocated, the Diversion Authority is working swiftly to make sure that land is available for those who want to relocate within those communities. In addition, those homes impacted within the staging area of the Diversion Project will also have the opportunity to relocate within the ring levee. The federal appraisal process will include discussions with homeowners to ensure a fair negotiation and acquisition process.
Since plans were finalized for the ring dike, the local real estate industry has rebounded with gusto in Oxbow. As of now, the vast majority of affected property owners in Oxbow have indicated to the Diversion Authority that they wish to relocate within Oxbow. With construction of the ring levee to begin by the end of the year, the timeline is relatively short for those who wish to relocate in the community and plans are being implemented to assure a smooth process.
The City of Oxbow, along with representatives from the Diversion Authority, will be meeting soon with the Home Builders Association and local builders to address the additional building demand within the city and to ensure those losing their homes have adequate options as they consider relocation.
North Dakota Legislative Session Ends with Support for F-M Area Diversion
North Dakota House Bill 1020, which includes financial support for the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project, was signed into law by Governor Jack Dalyrmple on May 2, 2013. The legislation provides $100 million for flood protection efforts in Cass County. The legislation also provides legislative intent for a total of $450 million in state funding for the F-M Area Diversion Project once certain conditions are met. The $100 million is included within the total $450 million.