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Heidi Shaffer, Published December 26 2010

11 to Watch: Oxbow mayor in for his ‘hardest fight’

OXBOW, N.D. – In the spring of 2009, Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof fought off the floodwaters of the Red River.

Now he’s preparing to defend the city against the upstream impacts of a proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion.

“It’ll be the hardest fight I fight so far in my life,” he said.

Nyhof, who became mayor in the fall of 2009 after playing a pivotal role in that spring’s flood fight, admits protecting the city has in some ways taken over his life.

“This is something no other mayor has had to deal with,” he said of the 12 buyouts, new levees and flood protection in the city located about 10 miles south of Fargo.

Nyhof, a co-owner of Fargo’s Dawson Insurance, spends at least a couple of hours each day on his mayor duties and jokingly refers to the front office of his home as “Oxbow City Hall.”

Nyhof’s role as mayor got even more hectic last month when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced new plans for the proposed diversion that would dump additional water on communities south of Fargo-Moorhead.

After the 2009 flood, the Federal Emergency Management Agency helped complete almost $1 million in street projects. With the new flood protection, streets and infrastructure in the town is basically brand new, Nyhof said.

“We’re sitting really good, and it’s sad to think they could come in” with the diversion, the 43-year-old said.

Nyhof is preparing a strategy against whatever the diversion means for the city, whether it’s a fight to stop the diversion, move the channel or receive a different level of flood protection.

“The most challenging part is knowing what is the right thing to do for everybody,” Nyhof said.

Frank Pearson, a 22-year resident and former mayor of Oxbow, said Nyhof has done a better job at handling the responsibilities of the office than anyone else.

“He cares and gets things done,” Pearson said. “He doesn’t kick anything under the rug.”

The corps hasn’t released exactly how much additional water the city would see as a result of a diversion or what it would mean for Oxbow, but Nyhof knows the city won’t go down without a fight.

“I have no intention of being the last mayor of Oxbow,” Nyhof said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511