Election 2010 series: Red River Valley flood protection

FARGO – In the final installment of The Forum’s 2010 Election series on North Dakota’s U.S. race, we take a look at Red River Valley flood protection. Read it in Sunday’s edition.

For this issue, it’s not a matter of support or opposition. It’s about what Democratic incumbent Earl Pomeroy and Republican challenger Rick Berg bring to the table in ensuring this massive project stays on track and becomes a reality.

Earl Pomeroy (D) | Rick Berg (R)

Although Berg has stressed that flood protection shouldn’t be political, the topic has become a campaign issue this fall for both Berg and Pomeroy.

For today’s report, I spoke with the two candidates about flood protection each on at least two separate occasions. The primary question I had for each of them was what strengths did they have that will help in the effort to secure federal funding for the Fargo-Moorhead diversion. Berg requested a third interview with me last week to emphasize how important the issue was to him, saying he didn’t feel he’d made his case in earlier conversations.

Previously in our series, I highlighted Pomeroy’s and Berg’s views on Social Security, agriculture, energy, health care reform, the economy and the federal budget.

I hope these reports have been valuable in helping you make educated and informed decisions when you cast your ballots. Next weekend, look for a recap on the U.S. House race and other information to help you when you go to the polls on Nov. 2.

In focus: Red River Valley flood protection

The Red River Valley has been plagued in recent years by record flood after record flood.
Each event threatens homes and other property in the valley, costs millions of dollars, and stalls everyday life as area residents swarm to put up defenses.

Since the record 40-foot crest in 2009, officials have been working to secure a diversion that would bypass Fargo-Moorhead and help alleviate the severity of annual spring flooding.

The federal portion of the project will be secured through congressional action – which means North Dakota’s U.S. congressman will be on the front lines of lobbying for the funding.

Berg, Pomeroy on same side of flood protection

Differences lie in proposed strengths each brings to issue

By: Kristen Daum, INFORUM

Flood protection is among the least contentious issues in North Dakota’s U.S. House race because there’s no debate on whether the candidates support or oppose permanent measures for the Red River Valley.

Their positions are clear.

Like thousands of residents in the valley, Democratic incumbent Earl Pomeroy and Republican challenger Rick Berg experienced first-hand why flood protection is so vital to the region.

Whoever is elected next week as North Dakota’s congressman will play a key role in ensuring any approved project will have the support of Congress.

The locally preferred option calls for a 35-mile diversion west of Fargo – a half-mile-wide channel capable of holding 35,000 cubic feet of water per second.

Support from the federal government is necessary to cover the cost of the $1.46 billion project.

A final report from the chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will likely come in November 2011, and if there’s approval, the federal government’s share of funding can be pursued.

That will most likely come through one of two routes: as an item in the next water bill or as a standalone piece of legislation in Congress.

Either way, Berg or Pomeroy would need to earn the support of his House colleagues in order to get the funding passed.

That effort will be made more challenging given the retirement this year of North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan.

Dorgan serves as chairman of the Senate subcommittee that funds the corps’ water projects. Once he leaves office, the state’s delegation will lose a significant boost of influence from Dorgan’s seniority.

Pomeroy says that reality makes a difference in the delegation’s ability to guarantee the project goes through.

Pomeroy said if voters choose to replace him with Berg on Nov. 2, it would diminish the effectiveness of that effort even further.

“It’s very important, more than ever, that we have on the House side the same kind of effort we’ve had before,” Pomeroy said. “It’s a time of historic opportunity in our state, and I think we can make the most of it if we play our cards right – and a little experience is helpful.”

Pomeroy said he has strengths Berg couldn’t bring as a junior House member.

As a nine-term incumbent, Pomeroy has senior committee assignments and established relationships with important members – such as Minnesota Democrat Jim Oberstar, a key ally in getting such water projects passed.

Berg has been adamant recently that flood control “is not a partisan issue.”

“My concern is that we don’t politicize this thing,” he said.

Berg argues his advantage in securing permanent protection is his personal experience in defending his north Fargo home against floodwaters during the record-level events of 1997 and 2009.

“If this doesn’t go through, I may lose my home. I don’t think anyone else can say that,” Berg said. “I have property interests in commercial property along the river, so again, you will not find someone more dedicated to doing what’s necessary to protect the city, the valley and do the diversion.”

However, Pomeroy said Berg hasn’t been actively involved in the process, even though he lives in Fargo and represents the city in the Legislature.

“(I’ve been) hands-on, deeply involved,” Pomeroy said. “My opponent I’ve seen at one flood meeting. One flood meeting – and he’s from Fargo.”

As North Dakota’s congressman, Pomeroy has had a seat at the table in the numerous meetings held by the Metro Flood Study Work Group during the past 18 months. He said he hopes “people know who’s working and who’s not.”

Berg confirmed this month he’d attended only one of the group’s meetings.

He added that he “hadn’t been invited to any” of the meetings. However, all meetings were open to the public and didn’t require an invitation to attend.

Had he attended the meetings, Berg said last week, “it would turn into a political thing.”

“I have not been invited to sit on any of those task forces or on the committee, and certainly, I would do that, if requested,” he said. “But we have state representation on those boards.”

Berg said millions of dollars have been appropriated in the state Legislature to support valley flood control projects during the past decade.

On Election Day, voters in Cass County also will decide on a half-cent sales tax measure that will help fund the local share of the diversion’s cost.

Neither Pomeroy nor Berg offered definitive positions on the measure but said they’d respect the local taxpayers’ decision.

“We’re going to have to build flood protection, and it will require participation across levels of government,” Pomeroy said. “It really is up to the people of Cass County when they want to put the money away to provide that local cost share.”

Berg said, “I recognize the need for tax revenue to fund the local share of this project, and I’ll support the local taxpayers’ decision on how we will fund that cost.”