For a century and a half, the village of St. Benedict has been a sanctuary for immigrants and parishioners. French speaking farmers built their homes and families close to the community for an opportunity to maintain a faith and education that they hoped their new country would afford them. They built a church and school to fulfill their dreams. Members of St. Benedict Catholic Parish have spent the past few years raising money to enlarge their church to better serve a growing congregation. But the shadow cast by the proposed dam south of Fargo could change that.

Diversion planners have told the parish that 18-foot high diversion walls will be built just outside of their back door. The redesigned Plan B has the diversion channel running on the west side of St. Benedict. Many of the congregation’s, traditional members have their homes and farms in the staging area between Interstate 29 and Horace. The new staging area means that anticipated growth will likely not happen, and even though the community is on the dry side of the dam, there are concerns about the safety of their current church’s location in the shadow of the dam.

When the Minnesota DNR originally denied the permit for the project, they warned that development within a quarter mile of a high hazard dam would not be permitted. As demonstrated by recent Midwest dam failures, it’s dangerous to be too close to a saturated clay embankment with water stacked against the other side. The DNR restriction apparently disappeared when former Governor Dayton agreed to let Plan B go forward.

The situation puts leaders of the St. Benedict parish in a difficult position. They have to decide what the future of their congregation will be. The community is not likely to attract new residents at the foot of the embankment. The North Dakota Water Commission seems unlikely to express any safety concerns since Governor Burgum is the one who lobbied Dayton to issue the permit. Like every other negative aspect of the project, upstream residents are being told to take the hit for Fargo developers’ profits.

The diversion authority had $30 million to build a new private country club in Oxbow, but it’s an open question whether they will have any money to help the Catholic congregation in St. Benedict.

JPA Editorial Team

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