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Wendy Reuer, Published January 30 2011

Lisbon considers 17 home buyouts

The city of Lisbon, N.D., is contemplating removing nearly 20 homes from its community in exchange for flood protection.

The city, about 70 miles southwest of Fargo, is once again facing a flooding Sheyenne River, with the National Weather Service forecasting a 51 percent chance of major flooding this spring.

But while the city weighs the concerns of flooding, it’s also looking for answers on how it can afford those proposed buyouts.

A 7 p.m. public meeting will be held Monday at the Lisbon Middle School, and Mayor Ross Cole said he hopes to find out if residents are willing to contribute to the buyout of 17 homes.

“We’d like to have some help making some decisions,” Cole said.

Cole said the city would be asking FEMA to buy a number of the homes but may pick up the tab for a few as well.

“If they go to FEMA, you can’t put a permanent levy there. The city may look at buying it themselves so we can have some kind of permanent protection,” Cole said.

However, the city of about 2,000 people may not have the budget to do so, which is why Cole said he needs to know if residents are willing to pay special assessments or increased property taxes in exchange for the flood protection.

The flood protection won’t come in time for the predicted 2011 flood, however. In December, the National Weather Service projected Lisbon would face only a 40 percent chance of major flooding or reaching the 19-foot flood stage. This month, the weather service’s projected probability of major flooding increased to 51 percent with an 89 percent chance the Sheyenne River would rise to 15 feet, or minor flooding stage, in Lisbon.

“Right now Lisbon is pretty well protected to 21 feet,” Cole said.

Bill Barrett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, said the higher probability was due to the amount of snow the area has received.

“That area, and particular up to Devils Lake, has had the most snow from just about all of these events – not every one, but the lion’s share,” Barrett said.

Although the forecasted rise of Devils Lake increased by more than half a foot last week, NWS officials said it will not have an impact on downstream Sheyenne River forecasts in Lisbon and Valley City.

“Everything has been running higher than 2010. It may be a little closer to 2009 levels,” Barrett said. “For now, it’s just probabilities.”

Cole said that unlike larger cities like Fargo, early purchases of sandbags and other preparations are just not budget feasible.

“We can’t afford to do that. We’re talking a town of 2,200 people. We don’t have a sales tax. We got to hope that when the time comes, if we need to, they will declare a state of emergency and there will be help there,” Cole said.

Col. Steve Tabor, Army National Guard, said last year the National Guard’s main mission in Lisbon was to help with traffic control as contractors built dikes. Tabor said Lisbon’s early actions as a city help his units prepare assistance.

“At this point in time, it’s a little early to know what our mission sets are going to be,” Tabor said. “But we’ll be sitting in on those meetings so we can get a feel for what the cities’ requirements are going to be.”

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