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Red River diversion opponents agree to settle complaints

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota and Minnesota residents who have been fighting plans for a Red River diversion channel around the Fargo-Moorhead area have agreed to a settlement with the public group managing the project.

Monday’s agreement should end a federal lawsuit filed by upstream residents in 2013 as well as other complaints and allow the $2.75 billion project to move forward. The deal was signed by the Metro Flood Diversion Authority and several entities representing people who live south of north-flowing river.

“This agreement is monumental and I really commend all sides for coming together to find resolution,” Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said in a statement. “I think future generations will be grateful for the tremendous effort put into this.”

The agreement requires the diversion authority to provide compensation and flood prevention to political subdivisions located within Richland County in North Dakota and Wilkin County in Minnesota for potential impacts from the project. In turn, opponents agree to dismiss all federal and state lawsuits and other proceedings challenging the diversion.

“We believe this agreement gives us the local control to ensure that our concerns over the impacts in Richland County from the diversion project will be adequately addressed.” said Nathan Berseth, who helped lead the opposition as a member of a group representing Richland and Wilkin counties.

The idea for the 30-mile (50-kilometer) diversion channel gained momentum after a record-setting 2009 flood that destroyed about 100 structures and caused millions of dollars in damage. Fargo, which sits lower than Moorhead, was saved only by a massive sandbagging effort by 100,000 volunteers involving more than 7 million bags.

Opponents have said all along they support flood protection for Fargo-Moorhead but filed the suit because they believed there was a cheaper project that would not inundate upstream land in times of serious flooding.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in October 2016 denied a permit for the original project, leading a federal judge to stop construction that had started southwest of Fargo. The diversion authority came up with a new design meant to minimize upstream impacts and the DNR signed off on it in December 2018.

The project could take at least 10 years to complete.

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