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Published June 14 2012

First diversion buyouts get OK from full board

FARGO – Diversion Authority leaders approved Thursday the first three buyouts of the Red River diversion project, and discussed a proposal that would allow such houses to stay occupied even after the buyouts are completed.

The buyouts approved on Thursday are part of the authority’s hardship policy, which aims to buy out property owners in affected areas of the project who are facing a medical hardship and need to sell their homes now.

The three early buyouts had previously been recommended by three of the board’s subcommittees after a vetting process that attracted eight applications.

Diversion Authority members rubber-stamped those recommendations Thursday during their monthly meeting.

They also gave authorization for appraisals to be done on the three homes, all of which are in Oxbow.

How swiftly the appraisals can be done will determine how soon the three property owners can be bought out of their homes, but consultants for the authority expect the process to take between three to five months.

Appraisal values – not assessed value – will help determine the buyout offers to the three properties. The properties’ total assessed value amounts to about $750,000, a cost that will be shouldered by the Diversion Authority.

While diversion consultants move forward with the early buyouts, they’ll also be drafting a specific lease agreement that will dictate how the purchased property can be used.

The general idea, though, would be that the municipality where each property is located – in this case, Oxbow – would be able to lease the property from the Diversion Authority until such a time when the land is absolutely needed for the diversion project.

Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof said Thursday he’s already received inquiries from at least a couple of people interested in renting the homes.

Nyhof said he supports a lease-back agreement so that his community can be maintained as long as possible while plans for the Fargo-Moorhead diversion project are refined.

“We want to keep the community intact as long as we can until the project is operational,” Nyhof said.

This summer, engineering consultants on the project are studying various ways to ease the impacts of the project south of the proposed channel and, potentially, save Oxbow.

One option they’re studying is whether Oxbow can be protected with permanent levees instead of being bought, as the Army Corps of Engineers’ feasibility plan calls for.

Diversion Authority officials said Thursday the protocol they’re using for the early hardship buyouts isn’t necessarily the same process they’ll take when it comes time to acquire all the property necessary for the diversion.

“I don’t think we’re trying to set policy between now and the time everything’s bought out,” Chairman Darrell Vanyo said. “Over time, our views can be changed, and right now, there’s hardship buyouts – that’s what we’re looking at here.”

With the initial medical hardships taken care of, authority members said they’ll likely look to expanding the early buyout program to include other hardship cases, such as those where an undue financial burden has been created because of the proposed diversion.

However, officials have not pinned down when exactly the hardship program would be revised to include those cases.

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