By Dan Gunderson
Work is starting on a 30-mile long channel that will be a key part of the Fargo-Moorhead flood control project on the Red River between Minnesota and North Dakota.
A 20-mile long dam with large gated control structures south of Fargo-Moorhead will control the flow of water during floods, diverting a portion of the Red River into the channel, reducing the river level through the urban area.
The entire project is expected to cost about $3 billion and be operational by early 2027.
As officials and workers gathered at a North Dakota site about 10 miles north of Fargo, where the diversion channel will empty back into the Red River, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney recalled how his city narrowly avoided catastrophe in the record 2009 flood.
“We won that flood fight,” Mahoney said, but the narrow escape made local officials more determined than ever to make the Red River diversion a reality.
That project was delayed when the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources withheld a key permit until the project was modified to mitigate impacts on upstream residents, and by several legal challenges which are now resolved.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said the project will protect an important regional center. “We're not just protecting those memories and those personal homes. We're protecting an economic engine.”
Burgum said permanent flood protection will also save individual homeowners money.
“It's going to save tens of millions of dollars annually because all these family members are going to have a giant insurance break because instead of buying flood insurance, they're going to be able to keep that money in their pocket,” he said.
“I think you know what bad floods mean. They have the power to bring the entire region to a standstill,” Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar told the assembled officials.
Klobuchar pointed out that big floods are happening more often.
“They say it's the worst flood ever. I know we've all heard that. And then Mother Nature says ‘hold my beer’ and we see another one, and what we are doing with this project is thinking ahead.”
Klobuchar, a Democrat, worked with Republican North Dakota U.S. Sen. John Hoeven to secure federal funding for the project and pass enabling legislation.
Hoeven said they also helped create the first public-private partnership in the U.S. for a large flood control project.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will oversee construction of the 20-mile long dam and gated control structures, while a private contractor builds the diversion channel.
Hoeven said that partnership will save money and reduce construction time.
“This is the first of its kind in the nation to happen. This is the paradigm for large, corps projects for the future,” he said.