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Craig Hertsgaard, Published January 26 2013

Letter: Diversion ‘solution’ has thorns

Diversion backers are throwing roses to residents of Hickson, Oxbow and Bakke. The idea of building a ring dike around the communities to protect them from rising diversion waters is being sold as the “grand solution” to the problem created by a dam and reservoir. The looming lake is set to cover 50,000 acres of land upstream from Fargo on the south end of the proposed diversion project. Those three communities are smack-dab in the middle of the monstrous puddle.

The immediate problem is property values. Not many people are interested in buying property that may be condemned in the near future. That’s bad news if you have to move for your job, or simply sell to adopt a different lifestyle. The “grand solution” is to put a 12-foot pile of dirt around the homes and call it good. No chance of wet feet then. Maybe a few pangs of fear at the thought of 32-degree water seeping into the bowl at night, if the dike should fail, but the designers say the chance would be remote.

But the flower throwers say the greatest benefit is that property values will return as soon as the sound of backhoes is heard piling up the Red River Valley clay around them. There is a catch, however: To get the ring dike, homeowners have to give up their right to a buyout. The federal government requires that the buyout value of property taken must be guaranteed at “pre-diversion talk” values. If those people who moved to Hickson, Oxbow and Bakke for a home on the peaceful prairie agree to a ring dike, they must sign away any guarantee of a buyout at pre-diversion talk value, and roll the dice with the dike.

How do you make that call? Is there a banker in the area who is willing to step forward and offer refinancing at earlier market values if a dike is built? Is there a Realtor with a backlog of requests for country homes behind an NBA-sized wall of dirt? What about the other homeowners and farmers who live in the rest of the 50,000 water-logged acres? Is this their “grand solution”?

The futile part of this process is that Fargo has other options for flood protection without laying siege to their neighbors to the south. The latest plan takes 25,000 acres out of the floodplain for urban development, at the expense of our rural community. Save the roses. Have a heart instead.

Hertsgaard is a Walcott Township supervisor and member of the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority.