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Minnesota House approves protection for Red downstream residents

The Minnesota House voted Monday night to protect Red River Valley residents downstream from a proposed Fargo-Moorhead flood-prevention project, saying they should not face worse flooding just to protect the river's largest metropolitan area.

The close voice vote came Monday night before the full House voted 92-37 in favor of a public works funding proposal of more than $1 billion.

The Red River amendment would forbid the state from spending money on a Fargo-Moorhead diversion unless the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers takes steps to prevent more flooding downstream.

In offering his amendment to the public works bill, Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said he did not want to stop a proposed $1 billion project to divert water around Fargo-Moorhead, but he fears the diversion will increase flooding downstream.

"The real question is: Will the downstream communities pay the price?" Eken said.

He urged all Red River Valley interests to work together on flood prevention like they did during last year's flooding. "I don't want this river to become a source of conflict."

But those representing the Moorhead and upstream areas feared the Eken proposal could prevent the diversion from being built.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said the corps has no power to take actions to help downstream communities. He said it would take an act of Congress to change the rules.

Organizations supporting a diversion already say they want to prevent further problems downstream, added Rep Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth.

"It might be too restrictive," Marquart said about the Eken amendment.

Eken agreed to work on the proposal's language with Marquart and others as the bill progresses.

At a committee hearing last week, Hendrum Mayor Curt Johannsen delivered an emotional plea to protect downstream communities. He said his town could be an island for weeks if flooding is worsened by a diversion.

The bonding bill also includes $50 million for flood prevention around Minnesota, mostly in the Red River area. That is the same as Pawlenty suggests, but $20 million short of what the Senate voted to spend.

The House and Senate bills are headed to a conference committee to work out differences between what the two chambers passed. They each spend about $1 billion.

However, Pawlenty wants to spend no more than $685 million, and on Monday said he would either veto individual projects or kill the entire bill if lawmakers send him a bill he deems too big.