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Dave Olson, Published January 17 2013

Opposition emerges to Hickson, Bakke levees

MOORHEAD – Surveys returned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by residents of Bakke and Hickson in Cass County indicate almost no support for a proposed ring levee.

That’s according to corps officials, who updated local leaders on the status of a proposed Red River diversion during a meeting held Thursday in Moorhead.

The unincorporated subdivisions of Bakke and Hickson and the incorporated city of Oxbow are located in an area that would be used to store water if the $1.8 billion diversion for the Fargo-Moorhead area is built and put to use during floods.

A ring dike has been suggested as a way to protect the communities to the south of the F-M metro area, and Oxbow is in talks with the Diversion Authority on how a dike might be designed to meet the community’s needs. It could prevent the diversion from forcing the communities to be entirely bought out.

While surveys returned by Bakke and Hickson residents indicate a lack of support for a dike, corps officials have been hearing different reactions from residents in one-on-one talks, said Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt.

“Some may be saying things differently in public than they would privately,” Berndt said.

Fargo Mayor and Diversion Authority member Dennis Walaker said the proposed ring levee was talked about Wednesday when he and a group of local officials, including Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof, spoke to state officials in Bismarck.

Walaker said diversion opponents were also there and the reception he and other members of his delegation received wasn’t always warm.

Rodger Olson, a Diversion Authority member, said there appears to be a divide on the Oxbow City Council, with some members opposed to a ring levee and others willing to study the proposal.

Contacted by phone Thursday, Nyhof agreed with that assessment of the council’s position, adding that Oxbow will take a straw vote soon to establish an official position on how residents feel about a ring levee.

Like Berndt, Nyhof said he believes residents of Bakke and Hickson may say publicly that they are opposed to a ring levee, but privately, residents express interest in finding out more about what the option might mean for them.

Diversion Authority officials have said if Oxbow residents do not want a levee, it is unlikely a project would move forward.

What is not clear, they said, is what would happen if Oxbow wants a levee but the residents of Bakke or Hickson do not.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555