If last week’s DNR permit approval for the FM Diversion predicted anything, it was that significant progress on the project won’t happen anytime soon. The permitting order listed 54 conditions that must be met before the project can go forward.    

Aptly numbered limitation 13 is a requirement that the DNR signature doesn’t release the DA, “from any other permit requirements or liability or obligation imposed by Minnesota Statutes, Federal Law, or local ordinances …. and shall remain in force subject to all conditions and limitations now or hereafter imposed by law.”  Further it states, “All conditions apply to activities in both states unless specified otherwise.”  

What this seems to say is that until permits from Buffalo Red Watershed District, Holy Cross Township, and Wilkin County are obtained, the federal court injunction stopping construction will remain in place.

The idea that the DNR would issue any kind of permit for the project in the first place is puzzling to say the least. When the DNR denied a permit for Plan A, they published a summary of why the project wasn’t permittable under Minnesota law.  In it, they stated,  “economic benefits alone do not justify a project with the extensive socioeconomic and environmental impacts posed by this Project … Given that there is a feasible, prudent, and minimal-impact alternative, the risk associated with the proposed high hazard dam upstream of a major population center is not warranted … The proposed project’s transfer of flood risk from one area of rural, sparse development to another does not promote public welfare.”

Reality says there are no significant changes from Plan A to Plan B that would change these statements previously made by the DNR. It is still a development project for the city of Fargo, that has alternatives that could protect the community, and not force upstream residents to pay for developers  profits. Minnesota law specifically requires the DNR to only permit a project that is the least impactful solution for flood control.

At the final DNR information session in Moorhead, Commissioner Tom Landwehr said that no matter what their decision was, they were going to get sued. That is much like saying the sun will come up tomorrow morning. The schizophrenic path to permitting that the DNR has taken has not only made legal challenges more likely, but the outcome more uncertain.  For a project that the DNR study says will cost twice as much as it will protect, and is already hemorrhaging additional costs with no apparent way to finance them, even a long legal delay could put a spike through its heart. 

The decision to permit a plan with all its limitations and confounding logic may not be the good news the ill-conceived project needs to move forward.

Richland Wilkin JPA Editorial Team

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