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Heidi Shaffer, Published June 26 2011

Diversion Discussion: Corps answers questions about property acquisitions

FARGO - Many questions surround the proposed Red River diversion under study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Today we start the first of a bi-weekly column where Forum readers can ask their diversion questions and get answers straight from the corps.

This week, the corps focuses on often-asked questions regarding real estate acquisitions that would be a result of the diversion.

Q: Who are qualified appraisers?

A: Qualified appraisers are those determined by the agency – in the case of the Fargo-Moorhead diversion, whichever local government undertakes the acquisition process – to be capable of performing the appraisal work needed. Regulation requires agencies to establish criteria for determining qualifications and competency.

Only appraisers and review appraisers who meet those requirements should be hired. The regulation lists several standards the agency shall review when determining an appraiser’s qualifications.

Who determines the offer of just compensation for the property to be acquired?

The agency determines an estimate of just compensation to be offered to the property owner in a two-step process.

An appraiser researches the real estate market and presents an appraisal of the current market value.

The Supreme Court has ruled that any alteration in the market value of property being acquired that is attributable to the project for which it is being acquired must be disregarded by the appraiser.

A review appraiser evaluates that appraisal and recommends an amount for an agency official to approve as the estimate of just compensation.

For some uncomplicated, low-value acquisitions, the agency may determine an appraisal is not required and prepare a waiver valuation that will be the basis upon which an agency official will approve the offer of just compensation.

What if the owner doesn’t agree with the amount offered? Is condemnation the only solution when an agency can’t reach agreement on the purchase of the property?

An owner can obtain their own appraisal for consideration in the negotiation process.

Agency officials may approve the use of an administrative settlement if it is reasonable, prudent and in the public interest. Agencies may also use other alternative dispute-resolution options, such as mediation or arbitration.

If all efforts to negotiate or settle fail, then the laws of the agency set forth the legal steps the agency must take when they wish to purchase property that an owner does not wish to sell.

When can a property owner be required to turn possession of the property over to an agency?

A property owner may voluntarily turn control of his or her property over to an agency at any mutually agreeable time. An agency may not require a property owner to give them possession until the sale of the property is complete, payment is made and title is transferred.

In the case of property used for business, residence or farm, the owner must be given the 90-day notice in writing.

In situations where condemnation is necessary, the laws governing the agency set forth the steps the agency must take to gain legal and physical possession. As in negotiated settlements, the 90-day notice on occupied property further governs the physical possession date.

Do you have a question about the proposed Red River diversion? Send us your question, and we’ll ask the corps to answer.

Email hshaffer@forumcomm.com (Subject: Diversion Q&A). You may also write to Heidi Shaffer c/o Forum Communications, PO Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

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