State Department Pressed to Open North Dakota Drainage Project to International Judgment
WASHINGTON Officials from both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border, in Washington to press Canada's case against a drainage project in North Dakota, urged the State Department on Wednesday to send the case to an international commission.
Manitoba province, which fears the outlet would send nonnative animal and plant species into the Hudson Bay area, is leading the move to stop the project by invoking the International Joint Commission established by a 96-year-old treaty to settle border water disputes.
The mission to Washington is seeking State Department agreement to activate the treaty provision that disputes are to be settled by consensus of the commission.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers already is constructing the project to divert water from Devils Lake in North Dakota to the Sheyenne River, which empties into the Red River. That river eventually would take the diverted water into Manitoba and the Hudson Bay watershed, the first time water from the Missouri River basin would empty into the Hudson Bay basin.
"This is not a Manitoba-North Dakota issue. This is an international issue," said Manitoba Premier Gary Doer.
Doer noted that Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin brought up the issue with President George W. Bush last month during a three-way summit in Waco, Texas, with Mexican President Vicente Fox. The final communique committed all three to work "bilaterally, trilaterally and through existing regional bodies such as the ... International Joint Commission (and) combat the spread of invasive species in both coastal and fresh waters."
"If you're going to talk the talk in Waco, I think you're going to have to walk the walk in the State Department," Doer said at a news conference.
Appearing with Doer were ministers of Canada's federal government; Quebec and Ontario; the Great Lakes Water Commission representing those two provinces and Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania; and representatives of American Indian and First Nations tribes.
Just this week Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty joined Doer in demanding an International Joint Commission review of the project. Pawlenty agreed that the project risked sending invasive species and pollutants into the waters of Manitoba and Minnesota.
North Dakota's governor, John Hoeven, said his state and the Corps of Engineers already offered to refer the issue to the IJC, but Canada refused in May 2002. He said the new demands are meant only to delay the project. Hoeven said the project is needed to protect against flooding such as major inundations in recent years.
"There was no specific project proposal at that time for the IJC to review, and the Army Corps of Engineers was still working on their plan," Canadian Embassy spokeswoman Jasmine Panthaky said Wednesday. "They finished that in October 2003, and in the meantime, North Dakota unilaterally began its project."
Canada asked for the IJC referral in April 2004. Construction has continued.
Doer said his side wanted to be fair and would agree that North Dakota would not be liable to double jeopardy. Should the IJC consensus be to allow the construction, Doer said the case would not be taken into the courts.
Should the treaty not be invoked and the case not be referred to the IRC, "This would be seen as an aggressive act," said David Ramsay, natural resources minister for Ontario. "This is not the way we deal with each other."
He noted that water runs both ways, and the United States would ignore at its peril a treaty that has worked beautifully for almost a century.
Doer admitted the IJC has no enforcement power but said 51 of 53 cases taken before it since the Boundary Waters Treaty was signed in 1909 have been settled by consensus.
Source: Associated Press