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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Lawyer for diversion group says suit has no merit

  • A state lawsuit filed by upstream opponents of a Red River flood control project has no merit because it duplicates a federal complaint, a lawyer for the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority said Thursday.
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  • A state lawsuit filed by upstream opponents of a Red River flood control project has no merit because it duplicates a federal complaint, a lawyer for the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority said Thursday.
     
    The Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority, made up of representatives from about 20 cities and townships in North Dakota and Minnesota, filed the suit in Minnesota last week, just days after President Barack Obama signed a water project bill earlier that authorizes construction of the nearly $2 billion channel.
     
    Robert Cattanach, attorney for the diversion authority board, said the lawsuit mirrors a federal complaint filed last September and is meant merely to push back the start of the project.
     
    "Everything they are claiming is something they could have and should have claimed in federal court," Cattanach said. "Clearly they're just trying to delay the project. That's going to increase the costs because construction costs don't go down with time, they go up. You're going to have more construction costs and more litigation costs, which is unfortunate."
     
    Wilkin County State's Attorney Tim Fox, a member of the Richland-Wilkin group, said the state action is "substantially different" from the federal complaint and the issue deserves to be heard in state court.
     
    "One of the things we can do locally in this lawsuit is seek an immediate injunction to prevent them from beginning construction of the proposed project," Fox said. "This lawsuit allows for discovery and an actual trial where witnesses will be called."
     
    Landowners downstream of the north-flowing river are upset that the project calls for a staging area where water would be stored in times of serious flooding. They believe there are cheaper options that wouldn't flood precious farmland and other property.
     
    The two sides disagree whether a ring dike that would protect houses in the Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke is needed for naturally occurring floodwaters and therefore separate from the diversion project. Opponents say construction of the dike should not start until a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources review of possible environmental impacts is completed.
     
    "I'm not going to get into a debate whether this is part of the project or not," Fox said of the ring dike. "That's going to be decided in court."
     
    The diversion would take about 10 years to build. Although Congress has authorized it, federal funding would need to be approved under separate legislation.
     
    The state lawsuit doesn't mention the fact that the diversion is the "law of the land," said Cattanach, who has not yet filed a response.
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    "This project, absent an act of Congress kind of repealing what they've done, which is not going to happen ... this project is now kind of a done deal," he said.
     
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