ND’s Flood Control Jobs Make Spending Bill

Sat December 04, 2004 - Midwest Edition

FARGO, ND (AP) The government spending plan passed by Congress includes money for North Dakota and Minnesota flood control projects, but not as much as needed, officials said.

The $250,000 appropriated for flood control work in Breckenridge, MN, will not even cover the approximately $800,000 that Fargo-based Wanzek Construction is owed for work the company just finished on the Otter Tail River.

“That $250,000 isn’t going to cut it,” owner Leo Wanzek said. “It looks like we’ll be left holding the bag again.”

Wanzek threatened to walk off the job last spring when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fell behind in payments by about $3 million. By late summer, his company was paid nearly in full when the corps found money left over from 49 other jobs around the country, Wanzek said.

The Breckenridge project, which diverts high water around the cities of Wahpeton and Breckenridge to the Red River, is finished except for grass seeding, Wanzek said.

“If they get another flood, they’ll have the protection,” he said.

The spending bill includes $34 million for the Grand Forks-area dike project and $600,000 for the Crookston, MN, area.

Sen. Mark Dayton (D-MN), said he is grateful for the $34 million, but appalled at the appropriations for Crookston and Breckenridge. He said he requested $1.2 million for Crookston and $10 million for Breckenridge.

Lynn Stauss, mayor of East Grand Forks, MN, said that the $34 million, instead of the $45 million city officials requested, means the project won’t be completed until 2007. Officials had projected the work would be finished in 2006.

“We’re happy because it’s getting us closer to our goal,” Stauss said. “But of course we want to get it done as soon as possible.”

Construction on the project began in 1997, Stauss said. Workers are currently ahead of schedule because of mild weather, he said.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who sits on the Appropriations Committee, said he would like to see more money for the flood-control projects, but the amount available for domestic spending has been shrinking dramatically. Still, he said, progress has been made since the Red River flood disaster of 1997.

“We’re getting close to the end,” he said.

North Dakota’s congressional delegation says the spending bill awaiting President Bush’s signature also includes about $25 million to continue work on the Northwest Area Water Supply project, which would bring Missouri River water to Minot and parts of northwestern North Dakota.

The spending bill also includes $6 million for North Dakota airport improvements, including $4.5 million for the Jamestown airport, the delegation said.

It includes $3.8 million for United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, and $3 million for statewide transit improvements.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), said he was among 30 senators who voted against the $388 million congressional spending bill.

He said it was more than 3,600 pages long and Congress has not had enough time to go through it. While some provisions are good for North Dakota, he said, “it is clear to me this appropriations process is broken.”