St. Paul, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) granted a permit for the Fargo-Moorhead Flood Risk Management Project known as “Plan B.” The permit approval followed the DNR’s completion of a supplemental environmental review that examined revisions to an earlier iteration of the project.
The Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority now has the combined dam safety and public waters permit needed from the DNR for this Red River project. The permit includes more than 50 special conditions governing project design, construction, operation, and maintenance.
“Plan B, with the conditions included in DNR’s permit, represents a balanced approach to reducing flood risk in an important metropolitan area while protecting public safety and the environment,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “The strong work of the Task Force convened by Governors Burgum and Dayton and the supplemental environmental review process were critical in informing our final decision. I thank the members of the Task Force for their input in this process.”
Landwehr said Minnesota recognizes the need to reduce flood risk in the Fargo-Moorhead area in a way that is consistent with Minnesota’s laws protecting public health, safety and the environment. Currently, approximately 169,000 acres in Fargo-Moorhead are subject to flooding in a 100-year event. Plan B will provide 100-year level flood protection for about 57,000 of those acres, while exposing approximately 12,000 acres to new flooding potential. Most of the acreage newly subject to flooding will be south of Fargo-Moorhead.
“Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to build a large flood protection project without adversely affecting some people, and the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Project is no exception,” said Landwehr. However, according to Landwehr, the Plan B project meets the state’s high permitting standards and does a better job balancing project benefits and adverse impacts between Minnesota and North Dakota than did the earlier proposed project.
Prior to issuing the permit for Plan B, the DNR completed the state’s thorough environmental review process, determining that the project’s Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) was adequate. Under Minnesota law, permit decisions cannot be made until environmental review is complete. During the entire six-year environmental review process, the DNR considered more than 1,800 public comments and analyzed 33 project alternatives.
Plan B permit details
As approved by the DNR, the project includes an approximately 30-mile-long diversion channel on the North Dakota side of the Fargo-Moorhead area. Plan B also includes dams and other water control features on the interstate Red River and the Wild Rice River in North Dakota. View the project map at https://files.dnr.state.mn.us/input/environmentalreview/fm_flood_risk/project-map-b.pdf.
Compared with the previously proposed project that DNR rejected in 2016, Plan B creates a better balance between the two states regarding the number of acres impacted and benefitted. It also improves on the mitigation of adverse impacts to property and natural resources and retains more existing floodplain.
Specifically, Plan B results in reduced impacts to cemeteries, organic farms and other properties in Minnesota. Plan B also results in less loss of the existing floodplain by changing the alignments of the southern embankment and tieback levees on the Red River. Plan B also allows more water to flow through Fargo-Moorhead during flood events. In combination, these changes reduce the size of the newly flooded area south of town and also eliminate the need for a ring dike at Comstock.
The DNR permit for the project contains 54 conditions, or requirements. Notable conditions address:
- Required mitigation, including fish passage at Drayton Dam.
- Acquisition of property rights for all impacted property in Minnesota.
- DNR review and approval of all final engineering prior to each construction phase (the project will be built in several phases over approximately 10 years).
- DNR review and approval of the project Operation and Maintenance Plan prior to completion of the last construction phase.
- Coordination with Buffalo-Red River Watershed District on the Wolverton Creek crossing structure.
The DNR’s Findings of Fact, explaining the basis for the agency’s decision, and the Plan B permit are available on the project permit page at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/surfacewater_section/damsafety/fm-flood-risk.html.
Project next steps
The dam safety and public waters work permit is the major DNR permit required for project construction. However, additional DNR permits and approvals are required as identified in the dam safety and public waters work permit. In addition, the project must obtain all other required local, state, and federal approvals. The current U.S. District Court injunction will also need to be addressed before project construction.
SEIS adequacy determination
In determining the SEIS is adequate, the DNR followed state law and based its decision on these three criteria:
- Does the SEIS analyze the topics identified in scoping?
- Does the SEIS respond to comments received on the draft?
- Did the DNR follow the process established in state statute and rule for preparing an environmental impact statement?
Prior to making its adequacy determination, the DNR reviewed all of the comments the agency received on the Draft and Final SEIS and considered them in relation to the three criteria. The adequacy decision marks the end of the environmental review process.