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A candid message from the Army Corps of Engineers

It was not difficult to read between the lines when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reviewed the Fargo-Moorhead diversion project for the Moorhead City Council. The project will move ahead with or without support from Moorhead or the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The DNR is conducting an environmental review of the project, even as the agency conceded it has no authority over the diversion. Nevertheless, the agency (rogue agency?) has asked to intervene as a friend of the court in a lawsuit aimed at stopping the project.

Aaron Synder, chief of the corps’ Project Management Branch in St. Paul, advised council members the diversion will proceed “with minor modification we elect to make to continue to minimize impacts to people and the environment.”

“… we elect to make,” Snyder said. In other words, the project’s design and execution is primarily in the hands of the corps, which has worked hand-in-glove with the local Diversion Authority to develop the best option for permanent flood protection for Fargo-Moorhead and the metro’s immediate environs.

Anyone not getting the message? The diversion has been subject to one of the most thorough reviews of any flood control project in history. The nature of the Red River has mandated intense scrutiny of every aspect of the project, including consideration and rejection of other options. The approved plan has cleared every phase of the federal assessment process (including congressional approval and endorsement by the federal Office of Management and Budget) with straight As.

Given that well-reported history, it was curious to hear members of the Moorhead council ask about a “plan B,” should the DNR not sign off on the approved plan. Where have they been for the past three years?

Every option was reviewed, examined, parsed and then reviewed again. When the engineering, science, costs and benefits were in (including resistance to building the channel on the Minnesota side of the river), there was no doubt the approved project was the only viable way to achieve long-term flood protection. The conclusion was crystal clear: No “plan B” could get the job done.

None of that process was discussed in the dark. It made headlines. It was front and center on local evening newscasts. The corps conducted dozens of well-attended public meetings. It was debated for hundreds of hours in open Diversion Authority meetings; Moorhead officials participated. Moorhead has a council member on the authority board — and has from the beginning.

So, for a council member to ask the “plan B” question, which was answered frequently and in detail a long time ago, suggests either a short attention span or a tendency to pander to the strident and selectively uninformed cabal of project opponents.

The diversion seems to stop and start again. As expected in an undertaking of such magnitude, it has hit a pothole here and there, faced a hurdle or two, come to sharp curves in the road. But the trajectory has not been altered. The diversion has moved along at a pace that is unprecedented for a big, expensive and complex flood control project — confirmation the plan is sound.