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Burgum calls F-M diversion funding a 'no-brainer,' a 'bargain'

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum pitched funding for the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion to a state Senate committee at the state Capitol Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. John Hageman / Forum News Service1 / 2
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum pitched funding for the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion to a state Senate committee at the state Capitol Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. John Hageman / Forum News Service2 / 2

BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum called funding the Fargo-Moorhead diversion a “no-brainer” and a “bargain” for the state Thursday, Jan. 10, as the flood control project’s backers seek an extra $300 million from the Legislature.

The Republican governor testified before a legislative committee Thursday, representing just the second time he’s done so since taking office in late 2016. He pitched funding for the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum Wednesday.

During his presentation to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Burgum highlighted the work of a task force he led with then-Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to find common ground on the massive project. He also touted the state of Minnesota’s recent decision to grant a permit after significant revisions to the original plan and warned of the dire consequences of a major Red River flood.

“The need is clear, the plan is sound, the time to act is now,” said Burgum, a former software executive from Fargo.

The compromise came with a higher price tag of $2.75 billion, however, and an updated funding plan seeks $300 million from the state of North Dakota on top of the $570 million already committed. Burgum included the extra money in his proposed budget by spreading it out over the next three two-year budget cycles.

But legislative leaders have expressed some hesitation about backing the request while lawmakers take a cautious approach to spending. Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, previously suggested lawmakers may look at loan options rather than providing the money as a grant.

On Thursday, Burgum made the case that the state would still be paying a much smaller share of the diversion compared to several other flood control projects because locals are paying more than $1 billion through sales tax. Diversion planners are also seeking more money from the federal government and the state of Minnesota.

Burgum argued the high cost is worth protecting more than a fifth of North Dakota’s population and $20 billion in property value.

“This should be a no-brainer,” Burgum said in an interview after his testimony, calling the diversion “the most tax-efficient project we’ve ever done.”

Republican Sen. Ray Holmberg, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the panel would meet in a couple of weeks to discuss the financial impact of the so-called “Plan B” and the conditions Minnesota put on its permit.

The project continues to face legal challenges from upstream opponents, who argue the tweaks made in the updated plan shouldn't allow for Minnesota's approval.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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