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Erik Burgess, Published May 09 2013

Ring levee for 3 upstream communities approved

FARGO – Diversion leaders Thursday took a big step toward removing homeowners in three upstream communities from what they called a “limbo state.”

The Flood Diversion Authority unanimously recommended that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers build a ring levee around all three upstream communities – Oxbow, Hickson and Bakke – if the

$1.8 billion proposed flood channel around the metro is authorized and built.

The three communities would be in the project’s 32,523-acre “staging area” south of Fargo, which would be under water in flood events larger than a 10-year event, but they would be protected up to a 500-year event with the proposed ring levee.

Other options considered by the board included only ring diking Oxbow and buying out all three of the communities.

“Moving forward with protection puts people in a position where they know what the future is,” said Darrell Vanyo, chairman of the Diversion Authority. “And they certainly know a lot sooner than if we were to look at buyouts.”

With Thursday’s vote, the $65 million ring dike around all three communities is now included in the proposed diversion’s overall design, which still needs to be finalized by the corps, and authorized and funded by the federal government.

Four options were considered to mitigate upstream effects of the staging area, Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt said:

•Ring diking only Oxbow, 106 homes, for $90 million.

•Ring diking Oxbow and Hickson, 139 homes, for $85 million.

•Buying out homes in all three communities for $74 million.

•Ring diking all three communities, 196 homes, for $65 million.

The authority also unanimously voted Thursday to make in-town levees in Fargo and upstream ring diking “early action” projects.

“I think this says that we think enough of the people south of us that we’re willing to put them first,” said Vanyo, also a Cass County commissioner.

Oxbow supports a ring dike. Its City Council voted 3-2 in January to remove the city from the Richland/Wilkin Joint Powers Agreement, which opposes the diversion.

“We’re ready to move forward with it,” Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof said Thursday.

But residents of Bakke and Hickson, both unincorporated subdivisions near Oxbow in Pleasant Township, have strongly voiced their opposition to buyouts and ring dikes, arguing that the dikes would push water onto their rural neighbors. The township board passed a resolution earlier this year opposing the diversion project.

Mike Bice, owner of the Knickerbocker Liquor Locker in Hickson and an adamant opponent of the current diversion plan, said the Diversion Authority still hasn’t guaranteed in writing that home values won’t plummet if a ring dike goes up.

“I don’t believe this is going to bring anybody out of limbo,” Bice said. “And if that’s the case, why don’t they put it in writing?”

Upstream opponents of the staging area say their homes have never flooded, but diversion proponents say the F-M metro hasn’t yet seen a 500-year flood.

“Saying that they can handle a 500-year event is somewhat naïve,” said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker. “This is not all for Fargo. This is beyond that.”

The project will be released by the corps for a 30-day public comment period in June. By August, a diversion project plan is expected to be finalized.

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