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Published June 11 2012

Medical hardships prompt diversion panel to consider early buyouts for 3 homeowners

FARGO – The first homes to be bought out because of the Red River diversion project could be purchased within the next several months, officials said Monday.

Three homes in Oxbow have been recommended for early buyouts because of medical hardships that meet the requirements of a special policy adopted by the Diversion Authority this spring.

The affected property owners say they’re glad to see signs of progress, but they aren’t holding their breath until the buyouts are official.

The Diversion Authority’s Hardship Review Committee recommended the three homes out of eight properties that originally applied for the early buyout program.

That recommendation was endorsed Monday by the Early Acquisition Subcommittee but is still subject to approval from one more committee and then the full diversion board, both of which meet Thursday.

Diversion officials are confident the early buyouts will move forward swiftly, marking the first mitigation for homeowners affected by the proposed Red River diversion.

“It’s really encouraging to see this type of meeting take place so these people have relief to look to,” said Brian Berg, Clay County’s administrator and chairman of the Hardship Review Committee.

Residents south of Fargo – particularly in Oxbow – can’t sell their homes, because the impending diversion has repelled potential buyers and called the area’s property values into question.

The project’s proposed temporary water storage area south of the flood-control channel could eventually displace residents of Oxbow, Hickson and the Bakke subdivision.

Two of the families who made the cut for the early buyout recommendations expressed cautious optimism when speaking to The Forum on Monday.

Dorothy and George Scilley were the first residents to apply for the hardship program on April 16, and with the approval of the Diversion Authority, they’ll likely be the first property owners bought out for the Red River diversion project.

George Scilley, a 78-year-old retired Army chaplain, is 100 percent medically disabled and deals with a variety of health ailments, including nerve weakness associated with the lingering effects of exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.

The Scilleys want to move into a one-level home closer to medical facilities in Fargo.

“We have to get out of this place, and we feel assured that we will,” Dorothy Scilley said.

But the next question the Scilleys and other residents recommended for early buyouts have is: When will the buyouts happen?

Diversion Authority consultant Eric Dodds said that will depend on how quickly appraisals can be done, but the process is expected to take four to five months.

The homes’ combined assessed value amounts to about $750,000, but buyout offers to the three properties will be based on the formal appraisals. The Diversion Authority has not yet determined how to pay for the buyouts.

For Steve and Christy Huber, an early buyout and relocation to Fargo would mean quicker medical access for their 7-year-old son, whose ailments have often required emergency medical care.

The Hubers have had their Oxbow home on the market since November, but only one prospective buyer has visited the property, the Hubers wrote in their application to the Diversion Authority.

A medical emergency this spring gave the Hubers a greater sense of urgency in needing an early buyout. Their son suffered a seizure, and it took 25 minutes to drive to the emergency room.

“As parents, we are no longer comfortable with the distance/time to medical facilities when considering the health and well-being of our child,” the Hubers wrote.

Meanwhile, Anna and Lyle Hornbacher – the third homeowners recommended for an early buyout – are both dealing with a slew of health conditions. The couple, ages 76 and 78, planned to downsize to a smaller home, but the pending project has put a crimp in their plans, Lyle Hornbacher said.

Being on the short list for an early buyout inspires a “combination of feeling good and still wondering what’s going to happen,” Hornbacher said. “We’ve passed one test. … We’re hopefully looking forward to this happening sooner rather than later.”

The Diversion Authority’s hardship policy so far applies only to residents with severe medical conditions who live in areas that would otherwise be bought out as part of the metro diversion project.

The five other properties that applied for early buyouts, but were denied, did not meet the qualifications of a medical hardship or were not located in the affected area of the project, Berg said.

“We reassured them in the next two, three, five months – we’re looking probably at broadening parameters,” Berg said “But right now our task is medical needs.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541

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