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Halstad residents wary of diversion

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HALSTAD, Minn. - People who live in and around Halstad are concerned that a Red River flood control diversion around the Fargo-Moorhead area will just flush more water toward them faster.

Lance Yohe, Red River Basin Commission executive director, spoke Tuesday to 62 people at a public meeting at Halstad Lutheran Church.

"What we're doing is trying to get people to cooperate in this geographical area," he said.

The commission is conducting public meetings to let people know about flood control options the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering and to gather information to help lawmakers understand why communities need protection.

Participants questioned how they could plan for flood control when they don't know what upstream communities such as Fargo-Moorhead will do.

"The option that concerns most of the people downstream is the diversion. That just brings the water here faster," David Meyer of Halstad said. He asked whether the cost-benefit ratio used to determine which plan the corps recommends takes into account the effect of a diversion on people living downstream.

Others questioned numbers that have been reported indicating the diversion will only raise the river level downstream 1 to 4 inches.

"Do they really think we're that naïve?" asked Wayne Tenneson of rural Halstad. He wanted to know where the numbers came from.

Yohe said the numbers are believed to be correct and the question for everyone is whether they're willing to lose Fargo-Moorhead.

"Then we have to say, 'What can you do to protect Fargo-Moorhead from a flood?' " he said.

Terry Guttormson of rural Hendrum suggested that if dams are built instead of a diversion, the whole area could be helped for less money.

"Just shoving it down to the next guy is not the way to go," Guttormson said.

Yohe said he understands the river does move through a diversion a little quicker.

"And that will kill us," said rural Halstad resident Rita Viken.

One participant suggested that a water retention option would appease everyone.

Yohe said it's an issue of, "Don't hold water on my land to benefit somebody else."

The retention option has been on the table for about two years, and Fargo has said it would pay for it, but no one has come forward to offer their land, Yohe said.

Halstad fought spring flooding for about two months. It left residents without major roadways and patrolling an Army Corps of Engineers-certified dike 24 hours a day, residents said.

An additional 3 to 4 inches of river water resulting from a diversion will make many more roads impassable, said Halstad City Clerk Ron Gotteberg.

The Wild Rice Watershed District plans to pass a resolution today about downstream impacts and requesting representation on the Metropolitan Flood Management Work Group and any authorities that will be making the final flood control decision, said Diane Ista, Wild Rice Watershed District manager.

"It's not in opposition, but to have a voice of how concerned we are down here," she said. "We really can't take anymore."

Yohe said the Red River Basin Commission has sponsored about 20 meetings on Red River flood control options.

It plans another round of meetings next year to tell residents about its recommendations, he said.