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Published October 04 2011

Rural Moorhead homeowners near deal with Clay County after lawmaker criticizes officials

MOORHEAD – Residents of the Crestwood subdivision south of here have one very influential ally on their side that could sway Clay County leaders into compromising on controversial buyout offers to the residents.

During a combative commission meeting this morning, state Sen. Keith Langseth said Clay County leaders “came up very short” by presenting an unfair buyout offer to 17 Crestwood properties.

“You’re throwing problems in there that aren't problems at all,” Langseth said in support of Crestwood residents, who pitched their second counteroffer this morning.

To qualify for $5 million in state funding, Clay County must come up with $1 million in matching funds.

Clay County leaders have stood by their original offer to pay 87.5 percent of the highest market value the Crestwood properties had between 2009 and 2011, with the 12.5 percent gap essentially making up the bulk of the county’s local match to state funding.

Due to budget constraints, county officials said they can’t cover a larger portion of the local match – especially when only Crestwood property owners benefit from having the homes bought out.

While a vocal few protest the buyout offers, the majority of Crestwood residents have accepted.

Ten of the 17 Crestwood property owners have signed purchase agreements with the county, said Greg Anderson, the county’s contracted realtor for the buyouts.

The Crestwood homes top a 31-property priority list, because of the homes’ proximity to an area along the Red River that’s been ravaged by riverbank slumping.

At this morning’s meeting, Langseth butted heads with Commissioner Kevin Campbell, an Oakport native who believes the current Crestwood offers are reasonable.

Langseth accused Clay leaders – Campbell, in particular – of squabbling over “a pittance” amount of money in comparison to the $31 million of state money spent on Oakport buyouts and flood mitigation projects.

Campbell said he felt “attacked” for speaking out in defense of the Crestwood offers, as other commissioners – such as Chairman Jon Evert – seemed inclined to accept the latest compromise from residents.

Speaking on behalf of his neighbors, resident Dave Sederquist asked the county to raise the value offer to 88.9 percent and to restore a 5-percent devaluation that was imposed on the properties after the 1997 flood.

Sederquist said state officials told him they’d pick up the extra $224,000 cost associated with restoring the property values to pre-1997 flood levels.

“As much as we disagree with it, we're willing to go with it,” Sederquist said. “You would have a better chance of swaying the two or three homeowners who are on the fence, because this would be a more reasonable offer.”

But county leaders remain concerned about “mixed messages” between what the same state officials told them and what is written specifically in the grant.

However, commissioners agreed to review Sederquist’s figures and check with state officials before deciding on his proposal.

The flood buyout subcommittee – comprised of officials from Clay County and the Buffalo River Watershed District – has planned a special meeting this afternoon to discuss the matter.