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Erik Burgess, Published October 10 2013

Ring levee revives real estate market in Oxbow

OXBOW, N.D. – With plans for a ring levee firmly in place, the real estate market has come back to life in Oxbow.

Leaders of the proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion project once thought they would need to buy out the entire town of about 300 people, along with the Hickson and Bakke subdivisions, in order to build the diversion.

Stuck in buyout limbo, not a single home was sold in Oxbow from 2009 to 2012, said Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof.

“We couldn’t even get an appraisal on a house,” he said, adding that Oxbow had about seven home sales a year before the proposed $1.8 billion metro flood diversion project began.

After the Diversion Authority approved the ring levee plan in May and with the future of Oxbow more secure, three homes have sold and Nyhof believes a fourth is near closing.

The first step in a three-year process of building the ring levee is to buy out 42 homeowners along the Red River. They could receive notices in the next month that Cass County’s joint water resources board intends to buy them out.

The ring levee will be used to relocate homes and the city’s golf course away from the river.

The southernmost section of the ring levee will be constructed next summer, said Bruce Spiller, project manager for CH2M Hill, the diversion’s project management firm.

In summer 2015, the western section of the levee will be built and portions of County Road 81 will be raised. The final portion of the levee along the Red River will be built in summer 2016.

While the entire diversion project has not yet been fully authorized by Congress, the ring levee is moving forward as a mitigation project, Nyhof said.

CH2M Hill will present a list of about 50 properties that are needed to build the ring dike and Fargo’s in-town levees to the Cass County Joint Water Resources District on Oct. 24, Spiller said.

In North Dakota, the joint water board will make the buyouts and then transfer the acquisitions to the Diversion Authority, he said.

Spiller said the group wants to get a full list of acquisitions to the public as soon as possible, even though the eastern edge of the Oxbow levee, which requires 42 home buyouts, won’t be built for another two years.

“We want to start that process,” Spiller said. “All these people know this is coming, so notifying them, starting the process, we’re working out a schedule with them.”

Letters to individual homeowners stating the water board’s buyout intentions, a legally required step, could be out a couple of weeks after the water board OKs the list on Oct. 24, Spiller said.

Of the diversion board’s $70 million 2014 budget approved earlier this year, $13.7 million will go toward land and property acquisition, Spiller said.

The Diversion Authority already owns three properties in Oxbow, homes the board bought out in the last year before ring dike plans were finalized.

The authority acquired those homes through its medical hardship acquisition program, a voluntary buyout that allows homeowners who no longer wish to live in their homes due to medical reasons to be bought out, said Eric Dodds, a diversion consultant.

The ring dike plan protects those three homes, so the Diversion Authority has hired Coldwell Banker to rent out the homes, Dodds said. He said the authority could sell them in the future.

Two other properties could also soon be coming into the authority’s possession via the hardship acquisition program – one in Oxbow, expected to close next spring, and one south of Moorhead, closing in November.

Only five of 10 homes that applied for the hardship program, which requires a doctor’s note, were eligible for an early buyout, Dodds said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518