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Erik Burgess, Published February 15 2013

Oxbow to get ring levee for protection

FARGO – At least Oxbow will be protected by a ring levee if the proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion is approved and built.

The Diversion Authority Board unanimously authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday to move ahead with plans on the $1.8 billion flood-control channel as if all three upstream communities – Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke – would be protected with a ring levee. But diversion board members said two other options are also being looked at – one protecting Oxbow and Hickson, and one protecting just Oxbow.

The three communities south of Fargo-Moorhead are in the controversial “staging area” of the diversion, a 32,523-acre landmass that would be underwater in the event of a major flood if the diversion is built and put into use.

“They’ll make the levee available to us one way or another,” Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhoff said.

Nyhoff said 62 percent of Oxbow homes support a ring levee. Oxbow’s City Council recently voted 3-2 to withdraw from the Richland/Wilkin Joint Powers Agreement, which opposes the diversion.

Bakke and Hickson, though, have been “definitely in lockstep” against the ring dike, said Darrell Vanyo, the authority’s chairman.

One survey submitted to the authority by Dennis Biewer, a resident of Bakke, showed that of 57 respondents, nobody wanted a ring dike, eight wanted buyouts and 49 were undecided.

Vanyo said Biewer is not an elected official but has become a sort of spokesman for Bakke, which is an unincorporated subdivision. Biewer’s survey signals there are a lot of people remaining silent “because they just don’t want to stir the pot,” said Vanyo, a Cass County Commissioner.

Fargo City Commissioner Tim Mahoney said in Thursday’s meeting that maybe Bakke and Hickson weren’t surveyed fairly.

“A lot of them don’t like the two options, but are there any other options out there?” Mahoney, also an authority member, asked his colleagues. Oxbow was allowed to suggest other options, he said.

So to get better feedback, authority members will soon be making another trip down to Bakke and Hickson for face-to-face meetings with residents, said Tom O’Hara, a diversion consultant. The new possible levee realignments will also be presented to Bakke and Hickson residents at that time.

The authority will have to make a final call on a ring levee plan at their April meeting. If they decide to cut one of the communities out of the levee, it would cause a 30-day delay.

Without that delay, the corps’ environmental assessment will be available for public review in May, and any ring levee changes will be finalized by July.

Any homes not within the ring levee would likely be bought out, but Nyhoff said buyouts would not occur until the diversion is ready to use in around 20 years.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said he is “extremely pleased” that the corps has agreed to move forward with the ring levee option.

“Right now a ring levee is cheaper than the purchase of the entire area. That’s what it’s all about,” Walaker said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518

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