Diversion backers OK with Obama’s budgetWith a mixture of disappointment and thanks, North Dakota and Minnesota lawmakers say some federal funding for the Red River diversion is better than none at all.
By: By Kristen M. Daum, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
WASHINGTON — With a mixture of disappointment and thanks, North Dakota and Minnesota lawmakers say some federal funding for the Red River diversion is better than none at all.
President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget proposal, released Monday, included only $5 million for the ongoing development of the Fargo-Moorhead project — well short of the $30 million that was requested.
But given the financial constraints in Washington, local members of Congress acknowledged Monday they expected to receive less than they hoped.
“We asked for the moon, because we’ve learned that that’s how you get as good a number as we got,” North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad said. “We knew we weren’t going to get ($30 million).”
Conrad and Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson said they’re grateful the budget plan included any funding for the diversion project.
“We could’ve got nothing,” Peterson said. “There’s some money in there and it’s recognized, so that’s a positive thing. Nobody ever said this was going to be easy.”
North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg agreed.
“While Rick is disappointed that the President’s budget did not provide the full amount of funding requested by the Congressional delegation, the inclusion of this project in the budget proposal does show that this project is a priority for the Corps and will help keep this project moving forward,” spokeswoman Alee Lockman said.
In the White House proposal, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would get $102 million for study and development of civil works projects nationwide.
The $5 million set aside for the Red River diversion would be the second highest allocation of any project in the country, behind only a Louisiana costal project that would get $9.5 million.
Conrad said it’s also a telling accomplishment for the diversion to be included in the president’s budget when Congress hasn’t yet authorized the $1.78 billion flood-control proposal — a step the project’s supporters hope Congress will take up this spring.
“They’ve in effect put money behind a project that’s not yet been authorized,” Conrad said.
In the absence of a budget approved by Congress, the president’s budget plan is the working document that outlines next year’s federal spending.
Congress hasn’t passed an annual budget in nearly three years, though it has the power to decide through appropriations how to dole out the available money. North Dakota and Minnesota lawmakers said they hope to use that process to increase funding for the F-M diversion project.
Civil works projects such as the diversion are typically authorized by a Water Resources Development Act, which Congress has been notoriously inconsistent in taking up. The last WRDA bill was passed in 2007. Conrad said he’s unsure whether one will come forward this year.
With that uncertainty, Conrad said North Dakota and Minnesota lawmakers are looking at alternative ways to get the F-M diversion authorized in 2012. An omnibus appropriations bill, which funded Grand Forks’ protection after the 1997 flood, would be one possibility, Conrad said.
In the meantime, Army Corps engineers in St. Paul said they have the funds to continue design and engineering work.
The Obama budget already allocated $11.4 million in funding for 2012. Coupled with the local matching dollars, project manager Aaron Snyder said about $28 million could be spent on the diversion project this year.
With the allocation for the 2013 fiscal year and a $5 million local match, there would be about $10 million to continue design efforts in the year that begins Oct. 1.
“Obviously we won’t be able to accomplish as much,” Snyder said. “But it’s still a large amount of funding … and we’re still going to be on schedule.”
Kristen Daum is a reporter
at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.