Wendy Reuer, Published October 24 2011
Moorhead City Council OKs flood fundingMOORHEAD – Shouts of “No!” and “Why?!” came from a group of about 20 residents as Councilwoman Nancy Otto quietly voted no to fund $37.7 million in permanent flood protection at Monday’s City Council meeting.
Twenty minutes and two more motions later, the council approved staff’s proposal of completing what is called the Base Project plus A through C.
The flood mitigation plans are a combination of voluntary buyouts and backyard mitigation. Properties in the base project area are at an elevation of 39.5 feet or less. Project A includes the area around Rivershore Drive in southern Moorhead. Projects B and C are in north Moorhead.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has given a $16.5 million grant so the $37 million project will cost the city about $21 million. About $27 million will be spent on buyouts, with another $10 million used on flood mitigation. The city must assess at least $4.1 million to receive the grant from the DNR, which bases that amount on population and median household incomes per city.
To approve funding for permanent flood mitigation, the council needed a majority with seven votes of the eight-person council.
A one-time assessment cost of $412 per property is estimated to properties within the special assessment district. So far, the council has not decided how the assessment district will be determined.
“There are up to three different models that they will now debate and determine which model to proceed with,” City Manager Michael Redlinger said.
Redlinger has presented the same model used in 2009, one assessment district based on elevation and a third option.
Otto said it was the impact to those residents who could not afford the special assessments that inspired her original “no” vote on the motion to approve base plus A through C projects.
“My intention all along has never been to hold things up and, my intention is for people who cannot afford to pay the special assessment,” she said.
Monday, after Mayor Mark Voxland had to disallow a tabled motion by Councilman Mark Hintermeyer from Oct. 10 because it was not in accordance with state law, Otto, along with Luther Stueland and Mark Hintermeyer, voted against funding the base project plus projects A through C.
“To me, it’s too far. I can only support the base,” Stueland said.
Otto quickly made a new “hybrid” motion that would have authorized spending up to $30 million. However, Redlinger and City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said that motion would have been too limiting to accomplish many buyouts.
“It was not providing the flexibility we needed,” Redlinger said.
Zimmerman said another problem with not funding the proposed Base and A through C plans is that the DNR warned the city in a letter the current rate of buyouts at 108 percent of a home’s assessed value may decrease in the near future.
“The essence of the timing is so critically important because we are afraid for that homeowner further down on the list who may not have the opportunity to get a buyout at 108 percent of estimated value,” Redlinger said.
Zimmerman said a future $25 million to $30 million grant from the DNR was also very unlikely.
That was enough for Otto. She withdrew her hybrid plan and made a new motion: funding the $37 million base plus A through C. The same one she initially voted against.
This time, Stueland was the only “no” vote and the motion passed.
The audience cheered and applauded the decision.
“It finally puts the city on a course that is workable and flexible and will have the effect we really need for long term permanent flood protection. Why it took this long, I have absolutely no idea,” Resident Bob Seigel said Monday.
Resident Clay Dietrich agreed Monday’s vote would be positive for the city’s future. “This vote is essential for the city of Moorhead’s dealing with this ongoing flood fight.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530