Guest Post: Fargo Diversion Is Redistribution Of Wealth

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“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.

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  • 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.

  • 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).

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