FARGO – Members of Congress from both sides of the Red River want President Obama to include funding for permanent flood protection in his next budget.
In a joint letter to the White House today, North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D), Sen. John Hoeven (R) and Rep. Rick Berg (R) and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Collin Peterson, all Democrats, asked for the president’s support in continuing to fund the ongoing Fargo-Moorhead diversion project.
Specifically, the delegation asks Obama to set aside $30 million toward “planning, engineering and design” work. That amount is a pittance in comparison to the project’s $2 billion price tag, but it’s still a significant request amid the strained fiscal landscape in Washington.
“We recognize that this is a challenging time for the United States as we identify ways to prioritize spending in order to put the nations finances back on a sustainable path,” the delegation wrote.
“However, we believe this project merits inclusion in your budget as a cost-effective way to permanently protect lives, property, and the economic viability of this region,” the leaders continued. “Until permanent protection is in place, these cities will continue to battle floods with temporary measures, costing the taxpayers millions of dollars annually. ”
The funding request comes just two days before Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker and other local and state leaders are slated to testify in Washington, D.C., in another procedural step that moves the project forward.
On Friday, officials will address members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers‘ Civil Works Review Board, which will decide whether to release the final diversion report for a 30-day state and agency review. Corps officials are planning to have a final report signed and sent to Congress by the end of this year.
Here’s the entirety of the delegation’s letter:
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We request that you include $30 million for the Fargo-Moorhead Metro flood protection project in your fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget.
The Red River of the North, which flows through the cities of Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota, has exceeded flood stage every year since 1993. The floods of 2009, 2010, and 2011 have represented the first, seventh, and fourth highest floods on record for the region. Every year, the region must erect miles and miles of temporary protective measures, which are costly and often have to be erected quickly under adverse conditions. Although the region has suffered some of its worst flooding in recent years, experts warn that it is only a matter of time until the area is hit with even more catastrophic flooding.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) indicates that a 100-year event would cause $6 billion in damages. A 500-year event would flood nearly the entire city of Fargo and a large portion of Moorhead. A catastrophic breach in temporary protection under these circumstances would likely result in hundreds of fatalities and would devastate the area economically. Based on the experiences of other communities that have experienced severe flooding, it could take years to recover from a catastrophic event.
The region has been very proactive in removing flood-threatened structures and making other infrastructure improvements to strengthen the ability to wage a flood fight, but one vital piece is still missing. This region needs a comprehensive, permanent flood protection project.
In 2008, the cities of Fargo and Moorhead requested assistance from the USACE to evaluate options for permanent flood protection. After a lengthy study that analyzed a variety of flood protection measures, the local communities selected a diversion channel on the North Dakota side as the locally preferred plan (LPP). The Assistant Secretary of the Army-Civil Works granted an exception to allow USACE to recommend the LPP in lieu of the National Economic Development (NED) plan. In granting the exception, the Assistant Secretary noted that the locally preferred plan would significantly reduce flood damage, the risk of loss of life and the need for emergency flood fighting measures.
When compared to the NED plan, the LPP would protect more people and structures and provide a greater reduction in the average annual cost to the region from flood damage, with no increase in federal expenditures. In addition, the non-federal share to be contributed by the state and local governments will cover more than half the total cost of project. This includes revenues raised through local sales taxes already approved by voters for the dedicated purposes of flood mitigation and infrastructure improvement.
We recognize that this is a challenging time for the United States as we identify ways to prioritize spending in order to put the nations finances back on a sustainable path. However, we believe this project merits inclusion in your budget as a cost-effective way to permanently protect lives, property, and the economic viability of this region. Until permanent protection is in place, these cities will continue to battle floods with temporary measures, costing the taxpayers millions of dollars annually. We appreciate your past support of this project, and urge you to include $30 million in the FY13 budget to allow the USACE to continue the planning, engineering, and design of this vital project.
Thank you for your consideration of this important request for our states.