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Wendy Reuer, Published January 20 2011

Red River diversion: Will the sun set on Oxbow?

HICKSON, N.D. – Whether Oxbow residents stand their ground and fight the current diversion plan or demand buyouts for the entire city, Mayor Jim Nyhof said they need to do it together.

The Oxbow City Council passed a resolution Wednesday night formally opposing the Red River diversion as it currently stands. The resolution also calls for any proposed property mitigation, or buyouts, to be offered to all property owners within the city.

“We’re being told we’re outside the project. It would be wonderful if we knew that was a drop-dead reality,” council member Arden Breimeier said. “If we’re outside the project, it is physically impossible to maintain Oxbow as it exists today without some type of mitigation.”

Nyhof said the decision to accept or reject buyout offers would be left to property owners.

“Mitigation is all or none. There is no partial mitigation,” Nyhof said.

More than 100 Oxbow residents filled the Hickson Community Center to discuss the city’s options as well as how it will fight the 2011 flood after the National Weather Service predicted Tuesday a more than 20 percent chance the Red will once again overflow its banks.

“I’m completely convinced it’s the biggest flood that we will ever deal with,” Nyhof said.

Nyhof said he believes if the community can fight a major flood on its own by installing dikes and temporary flood controls mostly along the Oxbow Country Club, it will only work in the city’s favor when asking the corps to reconsider the alignment of the diversion.

“We’re going to go full steam ahead like this is a big one and fight it,” Nyhof said. “If we can prove we can beat a big flood, we can say, ‘Don’t destroy Oxbow because of the diversion. It’s the diversion that is destroying Oxbow rather than the flood.’ ”

In the meantime, council members said they wanted to act as the corps prepares to submit a final diversion plan by December.

Nyhof said he was told by Cass County commissioners that the city should be able to use the legal counsel of Beverage & Diamond, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm the county has hired as counsel on the diversion project.

Nyhof said the question is whether Oxbow citizens want legal dollars spent fighting the alignment of the diversion or fighting for fair buyout options.

Residents say the city of 200 simply can’t be recreated, especially if the golf course, a focal point of the community, is lost.

“You can never replace our lifestyle,” Sheri Bartels of Oxbow said.

The golf course would likely be treated as a business, with members negotiating its future in mitigation, Nyhof said.

E. John Carlson said he just wants everyone to play fair.

“We’re empathetic to the situation in Fargo,” Carlson said. “All we care about is being treated fairly.”

Nyhof said he’s heard as many residents say, “fight this at all costs” as those who’ve said they’re interested in a buyout.

“The last thing I want is for this community to be divided,” Nyhof said.

Citizens were asked to e-mail city auditor Pamela Twedt with their opinions after the meeting.

For Philip M. Henry and his wife, Sally, who say they are less than five years away from retiring and leaving North Dakota for good, keeping Oxbow together means a lot to them.

“Our best interest is a buyout. That said, we want to save Oxbow. We are willing to take the risk we will be hurt financially,” Philip Henry said. “We want to save Oxbow even though it is not in our best interest to save the place. That is how much we love it here and the people here.”

Henry’s comments were met with applause by fellow residents.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530