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Dilworth City Council opposes planned diversion

DILWORTH -- Dilworth's pushing back.

Its City Council unanimously voted on Monday to oppose plans for a channel up to a half-mile wide to the city's east that would divert floodwaters away from Fargo-Moorhead.

"I think our first step needs to be an adamant, 'No,' " Councilman Chad Olson said.

A letter stating the city's opposition to a Minnesota-side diversion will be sent to the Metropolitan Flood Management Committee, a group of local officials - none from Dilworth - who are reviewing flood control options studied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

That was encouraging to Mike Astrup, a sugar beet farmer who owns land on the diversion route. He urged the council to take a firm stance against a Minnesota diversion.

He favors a North Dakota diversion or a Red River levee system.

"The time to stop this is now," said Astrup, former chairman of the board for American Crystal Sugar.

The vote came after City Administrator Ken Parke listed several concerns surrounding the project the corps ranked as having the highest cost-benefit ratio in the latest version of its ongoing feasibility study.

What the ditch will do to the city's growth is a chief concern. Hemmed in by Moorhead, Dilworth has planned to expand to the east. Utilities such as water mains were built to excess capacity in anticipation of development there, Parke said.

"It's prime commercial property," he said.

Parke said access across the diversion would also be a problem. Dilworth would hope to have three bridges across it, which the corps has estimated would cost $3.5 million apiece, he said.

It's unclear how the city would be compensated for lost tax base or whether the diversion would change its high-and-dry flood plain. The project would also kill a potential school the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton district has eyed northeast of Dilworth, he said.

Stan Thurlow, Dilworth city planner, said if local officials do decide to back the Minnesota diversion, there will be little that can be done to slow the project.

That was his experience as a diversion was being built around Breckenridge, Minn., where he works as the economic development director. Once locals sign on to a federal project, it's just a matter or trying to negotiate better buyouts.

"To try to stop it? I don't think that's possible," he said.

The council's letter will urge the corps to take a closer look at a diversion in North Dakota, which up to now hasn't met the cost-benefit ratio needed to warrant federal funding.

There's support for a diversion in North Dakota, Parke said, but officials won't know if it has enough benefit until next week, when the next version of the corps study comes out.

Astrup, who said he has met with other concerned land owners and farmers, asked why the levy project in the corps study - which tied for the second-highest benefit ratio - hasn't been seen as a likely option.

Parke said the number of houses that would need to be bought out, over 1,100 by the estimate of the corps, is the major hurdle.