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F-M Diversion inches towards congressional approval

Almost a year to the day since the project was initially approved by the U.S. Senate, the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion is finally inching toward final congressional authorization.

The Water Resources Development Act, a package of water infrastructure projects including the proposed $1.8 billion flood channel around the Fargo-Moorhead area, has been stuck in conference committee since the House passed a different version of the bill in late October – after the Senate passed it in mid-May of last year.

On Tuesday, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven announced the two chambers had ironed out the differences in their bills, and the compromise bill contains authorization for the diversion. His office expects the bill to come up for final approval on the House floor early next week, with the Senate soon to follow.

“With authorization for permanent flood control in the Red River Valley, we take a big step toward the construction phase of the project,” said Hoeven, a Republican. He also noted the bill has a provision that bars the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from charging a fee for using water from Missouri River reservoirs.

Diversion leaders have been in a holding pattern for months while awaiting an OK on the project from Congress. At its monthly board meeting last week, consultant Bruce Spiller joked: “One day I’ll be able to say WRDA is out of conference committee.”

Congressional authorization does not guarantee the project any federal dollars for the project, but merely a spot in line to seek federal funding. The project is asking the federal government to cover $810 million of construction costs.

“Today’s agreement is a continuation of the bipartisan work we have put in to get this incredibly important water bill done for North Dakota and the nation,” said U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

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