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Amy O’Connor, Published March 27 2012

Moorhead not being truthful with riverfront homeowners

The recent decision by the Moorhead City Council to sell five houses and one empty lot that the city purchased as part of permanent flood protection violates the trust and transparency that should be the foundations of the home buyout process.

Since 2009, the city has aggressively pursued homes. Originally, the city had no interest in considering backyard mitigation. However, after many conversations with residents, the city agreed backyard mitigation would be offered to homeowners wishing to stay in their homes, where such mitigation was feasible. Many homeowners felt this was a fair solution and trusted the city to engage in due diligence to determine if backyard mitigation was feasible for their property.

This fall, the city initiated riverfront home buyouts in Zone A, the south Rivershore Drive area. Homeowners were given approximately 30 days to decide whether to take the buyout and vacate their homes. The homeowners were told that the homes would be demolished to make way for permanent flood protection and that backyard mitigation was possible. Now, five months after Zone A homeowners accepted buyouts, the city of Moorhead has “new information” about the opportunity for backyard mitigation for some of those properties (Forum, March 13).

This raises several ethical concerns, and it appears that the city either relied on questionable surveying practices or misled homeowners about the possibilities of backyard mitigation. More damning is the city’s recent decision to “sell the lot for future construction” and possibly have “lots redrawn” (City Engineer Bob Zimmerman, Forum, March 13). This decision is in direct conflict with the city’s position since 2009 that the all homes along the riverfront must be removed eventually.

Riverfront homeowners and the entire Moorhead community deserve to have the city provide full and complete disclosure – including if survey data is incomplete or being re-evaluated – about their buyout plans. The resale of buyout homes and lots indicates a momentous change and suggests that the city has been considering revenue-generating options for buyout homes and misleading residents about the need to clear the entire riverfront of homes. I believe the city should offer the former owners of the homes that are now able to have backyard mitigation their homes back, and the city should pay for the costs incurred by those families for a move that they did not have to make. Anything less will further sour relations between riverfront homeowners and the city.

As a riverfront homeowner, I understand the importance and necessity of citywide permanent flood protection. However, the decision to sell my home to the city of Moorhead is grounded in the belief that the city is providing complete, accurate and truthful information about my property. The recent decision raises serious questions about the city’s ability to do just that.