Richland-Wilkin joint powers authority modifies mission

Commissioners from Richland County, N.D., and Wilkin County, Minn., agreed Tuesday, Feb. 16 to focus on performing and adhering to the terms and dictates of an expected lucrative settlement agreement with the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority.

With unanimous votes Tuesday, Feb. 16, the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority amended its mission.

The authority was among the entities whose leaders approved and signed an October 2020 settlement to resolve federal and state litigation related to the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion. On Tuesday, commissioners from Richland County, North Dakota, and Wilkin County, Minnesota, agreed to the modification, focusing on performing and adhering to the terms and dictates of the settlement agreement.

“It is in the interests of everyone and every entity on the Richland County and Wilkin County side of the table to adhere to the letter and the spirit of the agreement,” attorney Fred Strege wrote. “Not doing so could have disastrous consequences and jeopardize all the benefits that were fought for so hard and were painstakingly negotiated into the agreement.”

The local joint powers agreement was formulated for providing an entity with an initial purpose of obstructing, delaying and stopping the diversion project, Strege wrote. Since Richland and Wilkin counties signed onto the settlement, the original purpose is no longer appropriate.

Commissioners were reminded of the settlement agreement’s highlights, which include:

• the diversion authority agreeing to construct the diversion per the terms of Plan B, which was amended by the conditions of a permit from the Buffalo Red River Watershed District

• agreed protective measures for the cities of Georgetown, Wolverton and Comstock, Minnesota, and Christine, North Dakota, as well as affected cemeteries; all were negotiated and were unlikely to have been provided had all the various litigation continued to their eventual conclusion, Strege wrote

• payment for crop damages and a free crop insurance rider that provides payments for project-related flood damages; a similar program exists for businesses

• the payment of $75 million to establish an economic impact relief fund; this total includes $35 million paid in a lump sum, most likely sometime in March 2021; the remaining $40 million will be paid over time, most likely as soon as 2028 but no later than the end of 2031, in 33 equal annual payments with interest accruing at the rate of 2 percent per annum

The Joint Powers Authority has had an eventful history, Richland County Commissioner Nathan Berseth said. He shared his approval of the settlement agreement, its terms and local impact.

“For some people, it was all or nothing — this (diversion) project is not going to happen, or fight it to its death,” Berseth said. “Keep in mind, we’re Richland and Wilkin counties. A lot of people we’re hearing from are in Cass and Clay.”

The motions to amend the authority’s mission received a 5-0 vote from the Wilkin commissioners, followed by a 5-0 vote from the Richland commissioners. Both commissioners boards will hold their next regularly scheduled meetings in March.

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