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Erik Burgess, Published November 12 2013

Fargo to spend $4 million on 26 more flood buyouts

FARGO – Twenty-six more flood-prone homes in south Fargo could soon be added to the city’s growing list of houses the city has bought to remove for flood control purposes, a process the city is still years away from finishing.

City Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a $4 million plan to purchase 26 homes along Drain 27 in Prairie Rose Addition in the 3200, 3300 and 3400 blocks of 39th Avenue South. A permanent earthen levee is planned along the drain if the homes can be acquired, said division engineer Nathan Boerboom.

Despite years of buyouts, Fargo leaders hope to buy 138 more homes in the next four years. Moorhead and Cass County are much closer to wrapping up their buyout wish lists.

With the $7 million appropriated from Minnesota this spring, Moorhead’s buyout program could be completed by the end of this year, City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said. The city is waiting on responses from the last 40 homes on the list, he said.

“We’re hoping to have purchase agreements by the end of the year for any of those that are interested,” Zimmerman said.

Moorhead has spent about $52 million on 225 home buyouts since the record flood of 2009. City officials will be back at the state Capitol next spring to ask for the final $7.2 million needed to finish the city’s flood infrastructure projects, Zimmerman said.

Once projects are completed, Moorhead can ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reassess the city’s floodplain, which could mean 250 Moorhead homeowners no longer have to buy federal flood insurance, Zimmerman said.

FEMA’s response could take 12 months or longer, and until they respond, the city won’t know if the homeowners who didn’t take a buyout and chose to stay on the river will adversely affect the city’s attempt to shrink its floodplain, Zimmerman said.

Cass County officials are in the middle of making offers to 51 rural county homes still in the floodplain, buyouts funded by a FEMA hazard mitigation grant awarded earlier this year.

Since the grant was awarded, Cass County has spent $5.4 million to close on 22 of those 51 homes. Three have withdrawn so far, said county administrator Keith Berndt. Once the county is done making offers on these 51 homes, likely next fall, it “pretty much wraps up” the county’s buyouts, Berndt said.

There are maybe 10 to 20 more homes scattered about the county, but those will depend on additional federal funding, Berndt said.

After the flood of 2009, the county has spent $20.4 million on 79 home buyouts, not including the offers on the table and money spent this year.

Fargo is one year into a five-year, $247 million comprehensive flood protection plan adopted last winter.

Since 2009, Fargo has used $45 million in sales tax funds to close deals on 107 flood-prone homes.

Fargo is prioritizing buying homes and building levees on the city’s south side, which is most affected by the new FEMA maps being adopted next summer, Boerboom said. About 1,500 structures in south Fargo will be in the floodplain when FEMA raises the base flood elevation about a foot to 39.4 feet.

“We will not be able to finish these levee systems prior to the new maps being adopted,” Boerboom said. “We’re trying to accomplish as much as we can.”

In Prairie Rose, Boerboom said the city held two neighborhood meetings and did backyard walkthroughs before determining that removing the homes for a levee is the best option.

City Engineer April Walker told commissioners Tuesday that a city survey showed a majority of the 26 homeowners were OK with being acquired because floodwalls would’ve cut deeply into their backyards.

“They were very clear that that was unacceptable,” she said.

Homeowners will receive an offer that is 110 percent of tax-assessed value and have 45 days to accept or ask for a reassessment, Walker said. She said she’s uncertain if the homes can be moved or if they’ll just be auctioned for salvage.

The city is also working through a flood protection plan for the Mistwood Townhomes on the eastern side of the drain, across from Prairie Rose. Walker said the property owners there were not receptive to buyouts, and that a floodwall might be feasible.

Boerboom said about 10 additional homes in Prairie Rose might need to still be bought in the future to complete the levee system.

Six buyout offers were also recently made in the Rosewood addition east of Rose Creek, and the city is working on permanent protection in Oakcreek, where eight city-owned homes were demolished in the spring flood fight to build an emergency levee.


Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518