Guest Post: Fargo Diversion Is Redistribution Of Wealth


“Redistribution of wealth.”

Few phrases provoke a bigger response from either side of America’s political divide. For some, the words conjure up the social safety net, student loans and Medicare. Others see it as socialized theft, taking from people who have worked their way to success, only to give it to the indolent.

Most everyone would agree that some redistribution is necessary, such as using tax money to support disabled combat veterans. Likewise, almost everyone bristles at the thought of using tax subsidies to line the pockets of the rich and powerful. Bonuses for bailed out bank executives and Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere” are two examples that come to mind.

The “bridge to nowhere,” made infamous during the 2008 presidential election, would have linked a small Alaskan town to Gravina Island, a community populated by 50 people and an airport. The cost to federal taxpayers would have been $320 million. The primary purpose of the bridge was to promote commercial development of the island. Ultimately, the attempts by an Alaskan Senator to obtain this money by earmark failed. The project represented a huge “redistribution,” using hundreds of millions of tax dollars to subsidize an unnecessary project that did little more than enrich private developers on Gravina Island.

Fargo leaders insist on a huge dam and diversion for the protection of Fargo. But Moorhead is currently protected to 44 feet and Fargo will soon be protected to 42.5 feet. The FM area will be protected to nearly the 500-year FEMA level without the diversion project. The documents and materials published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers point to a different justification: Subsidizing the future private development of an expanded urban area south of Fargo.

Proponents of the dam and diversion employed an elaborate formula for calculating the “flood risk” and “benefit cost ratio” to artificially bolster the benefits of the project. The key to this analysis is the estimated cost savings “per acre” for future development of 14,000 acres currently in the flood plain. The materials provide: “Much of the area available for future growth is within the 100-year flood plain and future development with a diversion project in place would benefit from the saving of flood proofing costs in those areas removed from the flood plain.

As expected, the larger the diversion project, the larger the area removed from the 100-year floodplain and the larger the expected annual flood proof costs savings.” (FM Metropolitan Area Flood Risk Management FEIS, July 2011). According to the Army Corps, these flood proofing costs can reach $30,000 per acre, and therefore the project would reduce the costs of development by the same amount.

Currently, the projected taxpayer cost for the diversion is $2 billion. If Fargo will be protected from floods up to 42.5 feet without the diversion, who benefits?

Answer: Private land developers.

Who pays?

Answer: The taxpayers and the rural communities currently located in the 50,000-acre reservoir that will be required to surrender their property for the project.

Like the “bridge to nowhere,” Fargo’s unnecessary overpriced dam/diversion plan is a massive “redistribution of wealth” for the benefit of private development interests.

Perry Miller is a lifelong resident of North Dakota. He grew up on a farm in Richland County. He is a graduate of NDSCS in Wahpeton, and North Dakota State University in Fargo. Perry is a small business owner with commercial interests in both western and eastern North Dakota. He is married with three children, two sons who attend NDSU and a daughter in high school. His wife Denise grew up in Sheridan County, ND. A former township supervisor, Perry is serving his third term as a Richland County commissioner. He is Chairman of the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority, and political organization set up to defend against the flooding of Richland and Wilkin Counties that will result from Fargo’s plan to dam the Wild Rice and Red Rivers, creating a 50,000 acre reservoir south of the FM area. The Richland Wilkin JPA membership includes over 35 political entities including 3 counties, 16 townships, 10 cities, and 2 school districts from southeastern North Dakota and western Minnesota.

Related posts

  • Roy_Bean

    If it was Indian land that was to be flooded it would already be done. The Missouri River dams were placed in such a way as to flood the most Indian land possible. We are talking $2 billion so that someone in Fargo can live on the river bank.

    • John_Wayne_American

      I agree with the story, Yet I feel I must add, Roy if you look at the geomaps, the area along the river where those someones live is actually higher than the development land the writer mentions, most notably the land around the New 80 million dollar HS that the developers pushed though much against the wishes of most living in the district.

    • Rob
    • guest

      “We are talking $2 billion so that someone in Fargo can live on the river bank. ” you should check a topographic map… might be shocked at who is and isnt under water at 42.5 feet.

      • Eddy

        42.5 feet? Never in recorded history has the Red been that high. 40.8 is the record. 39.5 is the FEMA 100 year level. 42.5 is the baloney number Fargo leaders came up with to try to create fear to sell this boondoggle. Check their math – I have. The Army Corps calls it an average but disregarded all the dry years in calculating that number. The call it a non-traditional method – I call it baloney.

        • Corey Eslinger

          FEMA’s numbers did not include the most recent years either. I would tend to believe that the numbers are higher than we otherwise might have been in the past.

          As well, the high numbers are also a reflection of the water being funneled through a dike system in Fargo rather than being allowed to spread across the valley (and to more specific, allowed to fill the Sheyenne River Valley, which is the natural progression of the Red River floodwater – thus why the diversion is the truest environmentally correct form of flood protection for Fargo).

  • yy4u2

    Don’t like flooding? Don’t live in the Red River Valley.

    • Marcus

      Does that apply to every area that floods…, or is that just exclusive to the Red River Valley?

      • yy4u2

        My comments were towards the article; the Red River Valley. Mother Nature is tough to outsmart. Better to stay out of her way no matter how many years in between the wet years.

        • Marcus


          I hear ya. The real question is whether it is fiscally responsible for ND taxpayer to fund new construction in areas of greatest risk.

          It’s one thing to protect infrastructure that already exists.

          It’s a whole new ballgame to look for taxpayers to fund development of an area that floods during every flood.

          Bakke and Hickson were dry in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

          Some areas of Oxbow got wet because Fargo displaced considerable water from the natural flood plain onto others since the 1997 flood.

          Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney had the gall to tell people that he’s living where he does now because he lost his home that was in a flood prone area.

          Ironically, his home is now located in a flood plain that had feet of water on it in 1997 and now has multi-million dollar levee’s behind it which had forced that water onto others…, which contributed to Oxbow’s issues in 2009.

          Totally irresponsibly development on Fargo’s part.

          • yy4u2

            Unbelievable (shaking my head). Thanks for the post. Wouldn’t a company, if they were to divert water that affected an area of land that size minus any people, have to get some sort of environmental study? But Fargo just says too bad rural dwellers? Again, unbelievable.

          • Marcus

            The DEIS, SDEIS and FEIS have been designed to compromise the natural floodplain totally disregarding EO11988.

            Fargo, the Diversion and the Corps pushed the studies at breakneck speed but they hit a glitch. MN DNR, who is conducting their own environmental study.

            The effects of the proposed project extend WAAAY beyond the original scoping study and proposed to back water up the Red River for approx 22.5 miles to Kent, MN.

            BTW, the proposed dam would be around 12.5 miles wide.

            The downside is the Corps is allowing the local sponsor to call the shots on where and how big this project is.

            If you take the entire Fargo/Moorhead metro area, the city footprint is approx 88.64 sq miles. However, the proposed plan would allow the metro area to grow into a 261 sq mile city. Most of which new construction would be located in the natural flood plain.

      • guest

        its just fargo and the red….see my above post.

        • Marcus

          guest, i don’t follow…?

          Perhaps there is a disconnect in the timeline of responses.

          Referring to Fargo and the Red in what sense?

    • Rob

      I think that’s fair. But in this instance, the people who live closest to the river and who are the most at risk of flooding are wanting to divert their flood waters to other communities. And, because those communities are less populated and have far less political representation, they’re at risk of being victimized.

      Is that right?

      • yy4u2

        Absolutely not right if it were to happen.

      • guest

        and who should be impacted, 100 people or 40,000 people? and are you now for closing devils lake, grand forks, minot, valley city and jamestown?

  • toppr8

    Lets face this in realistic terms. Someone builds on the river, because they like the area along the banks and the tranquility. Somone else has valuable farm land inland. Why would anyone think it just and “right” for the valuable farm land to be victimized by those who are in the flood plain and want a bailout from their unwise decision to locate there. No farm land should be lost in this battle to contain the Red River, and no river bank dweller should even think they deserve a bailout at someone else’s expense! WOW, is this what we have come to?

  • Colin L. Wilkinson

    90% of flood damage is caused by the top 10 feet of a flood. Instead of this boondoggle we could have put small impoundment structures on the tributaries upstream of Fargo/Moorhead and if we manage to hold 10% of the spring melt back for 2 weeks or so we would see much less stream side damage in flood years.

    • Eddy

      You have it Colin. The Red River Basin Commission, a public ally funded organization, has spent years developing just such a plan for distributed retention in the Red River valley. If implemented this plan would reduce the peak flood by two feet. It would not however – subsidize Fargo’s development of the flood plain south of town. So though it would solve Fargo’ problems and benefit the entire valley – Fargo leaders will have none of it.

      • Corey Eslinger

        Eddy, it would reduce most floods’ peaks by a certain amount, however, it would not do anything to reduce and because much of it is manually controlled impoundments, could actually exacerbate catastrophic (500 yr +) floods.