A Fargo politician is speaking out about a proposed reallocation of funds that would impact inner city flood protection as well as the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion.
Commissioner Tony Gehrig wants an approximate $32 million in lift station repairs to proceed. The project, he said, has been talked about being deferred with the millions going toward the $2.75 billion diversion.
Fargo has 32 lift stations pumping water to the city’s north side, Gehrig said. It takes about $1 million to install an extra pump.
“Right now, those stations have a single pump. In this situation, if you have one, you have none,” Gehrig said.
In April, North Dakota Senate Bill 2020 passed the full state legislature. The bill increased North Dakota’s long-term commitment to the diversion to $750 million. The Diversion Authority and Gov. Doug Burgum, R-N.D., asked for an $870 million commitment.
The diversion has been announced as a public-private partnership (P3) project. Gehrig is concerned that a project benefitting Fargo’s inner city would be deferred so that appearances can be kept with diversion partners.
“I’ve heard justifications for the deferral. ‘It’s okay, since we weren’t going to get to (diversion work) yet anyway.’ But that’s not the tune I’ve been hearing for the last five years. It’s been ‘Let’s get everything done immediately,’” said Gehrig, an alternate liaison with the Diversion Authority Board.
Fargo Mayor Dr. Tim Mahoney and Diversion Authority Board Chair Mary Scherling both said the funding shortfall required new planning approaches.
“We’ve got guys who are trying to move pieces around,” Scherling said. “By the end of July to middle of August, they should have a new proposed plan.”
The full pump project, including some replacement and some new installation, is expected to be extensive. Mayor Mahoney called it a $40 million project that can be completed in nearly seven years.
“It’s just a question of doing it at the beginning or the end,” he said. “Do we do a little bit later?”
Fargo’s finance team has been asked to provide plans and alternatives, Mahoney said. One thing that appears secure is the city returning to Bismarck.
“We do plan to go back to the legislative body and ask for the money we asked for,” Mahoney said.
Fargo’s spring flood this year was moderate, Scherling said. The city did well, while Cass County, North Dakota did not.
“A lot of the stuff that’s been done in the city of Fargo is beneficial. All bets are off, though, if we get a big flood,” she said.
Gehrig agreed, saying that because of inner city flood protection, spring flooding didn’t impact residents’ daily lives one bit.
“Right now, we depend on those walls and those lift stations,” he said.
Mahoney said he’s confident about Fargo’s existing pumps, as well as standby pumps that are available.
“Over time, the pumps have gotten better than they’ve ever been,” he said. “Technology changes are allowing them to be much more reliable.”
Richland County, North Dakota, and Wilkin Counties, Minnesota, have been in litigation against the diversion since 2012. Five years later, the parties included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority against the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Scherling is optimistic that upstream residents will inform themselves on the diversion. Plan B, she said, allows very few impacts in the Twin Towns Area counties.
“If people in Richland-Wilkin understood the impact, they’d be surprised,” she said.
The Richland County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. Tuesday, July 16 at the Richland County Courthouse, Wahpeton. The Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 17 at the Wilkin County Courthouse, Breckenridge.
When it comes to citizens’ tax dollars, Gehrig thinks it’s best to consider the inner city.
“If they’re doing all of this for flood protection, then do the inner city work,” he said.