Smith, who is now land commissioner for the state of North Dakota, will start with the Diversion Authority in November after stepping down from her state position Oct. 28.
Her new role was announced on Wednesday, Oct. 13, the same day that the diversion project’s private partner announced the parties have signed off on important documents — the final paperwork to allow construction of the diversion channel to begin next year.
“I’m excited about it,” Smith said about her position with the Diversion Authority. “We have a very important job to do.”
The leading partner of the Red River Valley Alliance, an international consortium of major companies that will design, build, operate and maintain the diversion channel, announced the financial close.
“We are proud to have reached this significant milestone which allows us to move forward with the design and construction of this vital flood relief project,” said Sharon Novak, chief executive officer of Shikun & Binui USA. “We are excited to continue working closely with the Metro Flood Diversion Authority, the local communities and our RRVA partners to successfully deliver this project.”
Shikun & Binui, whose corporate parent is based in Israel, is joined in the commercial alliance by Acciona Construction USA Corp., whose corporate parent is in Spain, and North American Construction Group North Dakota, owned by a Canadian company.
Together, the Diversion Authority and Red River Valley Alliance have formed a public-private partnership to build and maintain the diversion.
The private partners will design and build the 30-mile diversion channel, which will carry some of the flows of the Red River during extreme floods. The capital expenditures, financing and development costs they will contribute to the project are valued at $2.42 billion.
Joel Paulsen, executive director of the Diversion Authority, called the financial close with the project’s private partners an important milestone.
“It’s the final step in the procurement process,” he said. With the accomplishment of the financial close, the Diversion Authority has issued a notice to proceed, which starts the partners’ work, beginning with design and survey tasks.
“We can expect to see their surveyors in the field next week,” Paulsen said.
Local and federal officials have said the diversion project is the first in the United States involving a public-private partnership involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is designing and building the three control structures and an associated embankment.
The control structures and embankment will temporarily hold back water to allow a controlled release of floodwater into the diversion channel, which will bypass the metro area to the west, then empty into the Red River downstream near Georgetown, Minnesota.
Besides the diversion channel, the Red River Valley Alliance will build associated features, including four interstate highway bridges, 12 county road bridges, four railroad crossings, two aqueducts, 11 drain inlets and two drop structures that will divert tributary flows into the diversion channel.
Smith’s background as North Dakota’s land commissioner equips her with a strong background in working with public lands and private landowners, Paulsen said. She was chosen from a field of 50 applicants and will be paid an annual salary of $155,000.
“We’re very happy that she brings a wealth of North Dakota-specific lands experience,” he said.
As the state land commissioner, Smith said she has worked closely with private landowners who lease public lands, in some cases families that have farmed the land for more than a century.
“I realize how important land is to people in this part of the country,” she said.
Light construction on the diversion channel will start in the spring, with major construction following around mid-summer, Paulsen said.