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Erik Burgess, Published April 09 2013

Oak Creek residents discuss permanent protection

FARGO – City commissioners got an earful from residents in the flood-prone Oak Creek neighborhood who say the city is taking too long to provide permanent protection for the south Fargo cul-de-sac.

Residents at a neighborhood meeting Tuesday said Oak Creek Drive and nearby Copperfield Court have been fighting floodwaters from the creek that flows behind them since 1997, and now they’re facing another potential flood this year still without permanent protection.

For the 2013 season, the city has the option to demolish eight of the homes it has bought out there and install a temporary levee if the flood fight this year reaches a “disaster” level.

The city will be hauling in high school volunteers to help sandbag the cul-de-sacs as well. At 40 feet of protection, the Oak Creek neighborhood alone takes 25 percent of the city’s sandbagging, said City Engineer April Walker.

For long-term protection, the city has been pursuing a $12.7 million plan to buy out and remove all 18 creekside homes in order to install a permanent earth levee, which the city says is easier to maintain than floodwalls.

That is until Gary Cavett, an Oak Creek resident, came to the City Commission last week and asked the city to reconsider other options that include saving the homes, stabilizing the creek bank and installing floodwalls behind the creekside homes.

The city is now taking a month or two to reconsider other permanent options in the neighborhood, causing some residents to criticize the commissioners for being “irresponsible” and “flip-flopping” on the decision to buy out homes.

“I don’t think it’s irresponsible,” Commissioner Mike Williams said. “This has been an evolving, dynamic situation.”

The issue of keeping or demolishing the homes has divided the neighborhood for some time, but residents Tuesday said that the “squeaky wheels” – those against putting permanent protection in backyards of creekside homes – were some of the few that accepted buyouts and no longer live there.

Many residents who stood up to speak Tuesday said they wouldn’t mind having a permanent floodwall in their backyard if it meant peace of mind. Others said sticking with the original plan of demolishing 18 houses was the best.

Either way, residents put the burden on the city to make a call before the neighborhood is facing this issue again in 2014.

“You are not going to get 100 percent consensus. Somebody needs to be the bad guy,” said Lisa Juvette, an Oak Creek resident. “Somebody needs to make the decision and stay with it.”

Mayor Dennis Walaker said that if a “simple majority” consensus can be reached by the neighborhood on this divisive issue, he will call a special commission meeting to potentially change the permanent protection plan for the area and get something started this construction season.

“We’re not going to sit on this for six months,” Walaker said.

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