A panel of North Dakota legislative budget-writers moved Monday to put strings on state funding for the Fargo-Moorhead diversion, which one Fargo lawmaker worried would put an "unfair burden" on the flood protection project.
An amended budget bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee lists five conditions for using $66.5 million to be appropriated in the 2019-21 budget cycle, as well as past funding, focusing on the revised project plan known as Plan B.
Under the proposal, the money can't be used for work under Plan B until a federal court injunction is modified to allow such work to continue, congressional and Minnesota lawmakers appropriate funds for Plan B construction and North Dakota's state engineer approves a mitigation plan and issues the required permits. Money could still be used for constructing or repairing levees and dikes or for purchasing land and easements for flood control, however.
Hours after the House Appropriations Committee discussion, the Diversion Authority announced a federal judge issued an order allowing for construction in North Dakota.
Plan B is the updated project design that came out of a task force led by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and then-Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to find a compromise between the two states. The changes also helped bump up the price tag to $2.75 billion, prompting the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority to seek an extra $300 million from North Dakota lawmakers.
House lawmakers are still eyeing an additional $133 million instead, putting the state's overall share at $703 million, said Huff Republican Rep. Jim Schmidt, a member of House Appropriations Committee who's known for his focus on water issues.
North Dakota lawmakers have expressed concerns about the legal and regulatory hurdles facing the costly project. Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, said the funding conditions could help relieve the "angst" among legislators.
"Everybody has conditions in this whole story with the exception of the North Dakota Legislature," he said.
Fargo Republican Rep. Thomas Beadle worried that the requirements would give other governments another "veto pen" over the project protecting the state's largest metro area. The committee later easily rejected an amendment he offered seeking to increase the state's share to $870 million, matching requests from diversion planners and Burgum.
Diversion Authority spokesman Rocky Schneider said Monday that the conditions appeared "workable," arguing that the federal and Minnesota funding mandates have already been met. He said funding levels were more crucial to the project's success.