DNR requests comments on scope of supplemental EIS for revised Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has determined that a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) is required for the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority’s revised flood risk management project. 

The DNR will prepare the SEIS to analyze modifications in the revised project proposal. The DNR invites comments on the scope of the SEIS through June 11. The scope will determine what will be evaluated in the SEIS.

Broadly speaking, the SEIS describes the proposed project, identifies environmental impacts and considers mitigation and alternatives that may lessen those impacts. The supplemental review, which is not an entirely new EIS, will focus on those aspects of the revised project that were not evaluated in the original environmental impact statement (EIS).

The DNR will conduct the SEIS work concurrently with its review of the Diversion Authority’s permit application for its revised project.

The proposed Fargo-Moorhead flood risk management project is a dam and diversion channel system designed to divert flood waters around Fargo, North Dakota; Moorhead, Minnesota; and surrounding metropolitan areas.

The DNR denied the Diversion Authority’s previous permit application in October 2016 because it included insufficient mitigation; it did not meet state and local plans, rules and statutes; and there are alternatives that can provide needed protection. Since then, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton created a joint task force to develop engineering options to address concerns about the project’s impacts. The project applicant considered the task force’s work in developing the current project proposal.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said substantial changes to the original proposal require additional analysis. He said the DNR’s determination that an SEIS is needed is entirely separate from the agency’s ultimate decision about permitability. The SEIS will help ensure that the potential impacts of the project, as revised, are thoroughly assessed and disclosed, he said.

“I want to emphasize that Minnesota continues to support enhanced flood risk management for the developed portion of the Fargo-Moorhead area that can meet Minnesota state standards,” Landwehr said.

As required by state law, the DNR will not decide on the permit application until the SEIS is deemed adequate. The SEIS adequacy determination is not a project approval, but is rather a decision about whether the supplemental review was completed properly. The DNR is expected to complete the SEIS and adequacy determination in fall 2018. A permit decision is expected soon thereafter.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing a federal supplemental environmental assessment for the proposed project, which is similar to the state SEIS in scope and purpose.

The DNR will accept comments on the scope of the SEIS during a 20-day period beginning May 22 and ending June 11 at 4:30 p.m.

A copy of the SEIS is available for public review at:

  • DNR Library, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155.
  • DNR northwest region office, 2220 Bemidji Ave., Bemidji, MN 56601.
  • Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55401, Government Documents, 2nd Floor.
  • Moorhead Public Library, 118 5th St. S, Moorhead, MN 56560.
  • Fergus Falls Public Library, 205 E. Hampden, Fergus Falls, MN 56537.
  • Fargo Public Library Downtown, 102 3rd St. North, Fargo, ND 58102.

Written comments on the scope of the SEIS must be received by Monday, June 11 at 4:30 p.m. Comments may be mailed to:  Jill Townley, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 500 Lafayette Road, Box 25, St. Paul, MN 55155-4025.

Comments may be emailed to: environmentalrev.dnr@state.mn.us with “Fargo-Moorhead SEIS” in the subject line. If using the email address, include your name and mailing address so that you can be added to the mailing list.

Comments may be faxed to 651-297-1500.

The SEIS preparation notice, and additional details about the proposed project and the DNR’s review process are available on the Fargo-Moorhead project page.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is this project about?

The proposed Fargo-Moorhead (FM) flood risk management project is designed to divert flood waters around Fargo, North Dakota; Moorhead, Minnesota and surrounding metropolitan areas. It would control flows through the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area by placing high hazard dams on the Red and Wild Rice rivers. The dams, along with two tieback embankments, would then stage water in an upstream staging area. Water would drain from the upstream staging area into a 30-mile diversion channel around the metropolitan area that would outlet north of the metropolitan area.

What is the history of the DNR’s involvement with the project?

The DNR prepared a state environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Diversion Authority’s proposed project. That EIS process concluded in June 2016 with the DNR’s EIS adequacy determination.

On Feb. 18, 2016, prior to completion of state environmental review, the DNR received an application for a Dam Safety and Public Waters Work permit for the FM project, listing the Flood Diversion Board of Authority (the Diversion Authority) as the applicant. Based on the October 2016 Findings of Fact for the Dam Safety and Public Water Work Permit Application, the DNR denied the permit application for the proposed FM project.

In early 2017, the Diversion Authority informally coordinated with DNR staff regarding the permit denial by engaging in work sessions aimed at addressing the DNR’s concerns and discussing potential options moving forward. Later in 2017, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton created a joint task force to discuss flood control options and make recommendations. The task force created a technical advisory group that included engineers and staff from the Diversion Authority and the DNR. The technical group presented the task force with engineering options to address concerns about project impacts.

What is the revised project design?

On March 16, 2018, after considering the recommendations of the task force and technical advisory group, and engaging in additional discussions with the DNR, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority, the Diversion Authority submitted a permit application for a revised FM project, known as “Plan B.” The “Plan B” project changes the alignments of the southern embankment alignment, the eastern tieback and the western tieback. This plan also allows more flows through town. These component changes result in a new inundation and staging area, and also result in modifications to, and elimination of, some project structures, such as the Comstock ring levee. Plan B also results in reduced impacts to Minnesota acres, cemeteries and organic farms.

What will happen next?

The DNR has determined that these project design changes are “substantial and may affect the potential significant adverse environmental effects of the project” and has ordered preparation of a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS). The SEIS is designed to evaluate the potential impacts of the proposed project that were not assessed in the original EIS. During the SEIS process, the DNR will also be reviewing the Diversion Authority’s Plan B permit application. However, the DNR cannot make any decision on the application until the SEIS process is complete. The DNR currently anticipates completing the SEIS in October 2018, and making its permit decision shortly thereafter.

Additional information about the SEIS and permit application are available on the Fargo-Moorhead project page.