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Heidi Shaffer, Published May 25 2011

'We're in a state of emergency': Homeowners pack Kindred diversion meeting

KINDRED, N.D. – Mike Bice could lose both his home and business to buyouts if a proposed Red River diversion is built.

Bice’s neon-yellow vest represents the way many in the community are feeling right now, he said.

“The city of Fargo wears a vest in a state of emergency during flooding,” said Bice, who lives in Bakke Subdivision and owns the Knickerbocker Liquor Locker in Hickson. “We’re in a state of emergency because of the city of Fargo.”

A boisterous crowd of more than 250 people packed the Kindred High School gym on Tuesday night to take part in a meeting held to receive public comments on a more than two-year study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Dozens of residents spoke out against the diversion plan and what it would do to areas to the south. Many of the comments were met with applause and cheering.

June Skarie has lived west of Hickson for 41 years and spoke passionately about her desire to stay.

“I think someone in the government should pay some attention to us,” she said. “We don’t want to move. We don’t want to be bought out.”

Fargo City Commissioner Tim Mahoney said Fargo has also had a number of buyouts, and this project seeks to find a solution to flooding issues in the area.

“We’re not trying to disrespect you. ... We just have to figure it out,” he said.

A more than $1.7 billion diversion channel would reduce the flood risk to more than 200,000 people in Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo, Horace and Harwood.

During a flood, however, the diversion would hold back additional water south of where the channel starts carrying water out of the Red River just north of Oxbow.

The Hickson gauge, located about 15 miles south of Fargo, would register an additional roughly 5.5 feet of water during a 100-year flood than without the diversion in place. Other areas surrounding Oxbow and Bakke Subdivision would see 5 to 8 feet of additional water.

The corps has determined that any structures that would see an additional 3 or more feet will get buyouts. That includes the entire communities of Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke Subdivision.

“You’re stuck in limbo,” said Greg Christianson, a 28-year Bakke resident who said he’s disgusted over losing his house.

“I can’t sell it if I want to. It’s worthless,” he said.

The estimated cost for buyouts, ring dikes and easements south of the channel will all come from local funds and are estimated at about $200 million, corps documents show.

Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof said he hopes the people of Fargo and Cass County realize the cost for this “Cadillac of a project” will eventually be assessed to metro residents.

“The sales tax can’t cover it,” Nyhof said before the meeting, referring to both Fargo and Cass County’s half-cent sales taxes passed by voters for flood mitigation and diversion expenses.

The total local share of the diversion – paid by the states of North Dakota and Minnesota, Cass and Clay counties, Moorhead, Fargo and area water boards – is $967 million, with the remaining $767 million coming from the federal government.

The city of Oxbow asked the corps to consider a diversion alignment that includes its residents, an extension of the 45-day public comment period on the project study and a re-evaluation of the cost estimates for buyouts, which Nyhof said will be much more than anticipated in the study.

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

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