Diversion Authority’s new hardship committee to review applications

FARGO – A new subcommittee of the Diversion Authority can start considering buyout applications from residents who are already feeling negative impacts from Red River diversion plans.

The authority approved appointments Thursday to three new subcommittees – including the Hardship Review Committee, which will weigh applications from residents seeking a buyout under the authority’s hardship policy.

The policy, approved last month, applies only to residents who would otherwise be bought out because of the project but suffer a medical condition that requires them to relocate now.

Residents south of Fargo-Moorhead are having trouble selling their homes because of the threat of the diversion project, which stands to displace several upstream communities because of a dam feature associated with the project.

Residents seeking a buyout under the hardship policy must submit an application – including a doctor’s certification of their condition – to the Diversion Authority.

Applications and a copy of the policy are available online at www.fmdiversion.com/library.asp.

The newly formed Hardship Review Committee will consider applications and make recommendations to the Early Acquisition Subcommittee.

If approved, applicants will be put on an early buyout list, but buyouts will be offered only when the Diversion Authority has the funding.

Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt said Thursday that five applications had been received so far.

However, only two are from residents who meet the criteria of having a medical condition and living in the affected area of the project, he said.

There’s no timeline as to how swiftly the applications will be handled, but the Hardship Review Committee plans to meet within the next month to address the initial claims.

The committee is comprised of local leaders, administrative officials, project consultants and medical experts.

Those appointed are:

  • Program Administrator: Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir
  • Administrative advisory and program management staff: Berg, Dodds, Morris, and Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt
  • Physician: Dr. John Baird of Fargo Cass Public Health
  • Social worker: Chip Ammerman, director of Cass County Social Services

Also Thursday, the Diversion Authority approved appointments to the Agricultural Advisory and Early Acquisition subcommittees, both of which will report to the Land Management Committee.

Those boards will deal with similarly specific mitigation issues that result from the project’s impacts.

The Agricultural Advisory Subcommittee will “assist in the development of policies and procedures to mitigate project-related impacts to agriculture.” Members are:

  • Land Management Committee representatives: Diversion Authority member Rodger Olson, Fargo administrator Pat Zavoral, Clay County Commissioner Jon Evert and Fargo engineer Mark Bittner
  • Agricultural community representatives: Mark Askegaard and Matt Ness of Minnesota, and Mark Brodshaug, Mark Ottis, Scott Nipstad and Tyler Odegaard of North Dakota.
  • Administrative advisory and program management staff: Clay County engineer Dave Overbo and Jon Diebel and Mark Lambrecht of CH2M Hill.

The Early Acquisition Subcommittee will “assist in early acquisition policy development and implementation of early acquisition policies.” Members are:

  • Land Management Committee representatives: Zavoral, Cass County planner Tim Solberg and Moorhead engineer Bob Zimmerman
  • Legal advisers: West Fargo attorney Brian Neugebauer and assistant Fargo attorney Nancy Morris
  • Administrative advisory and program management staff: Diebel, Clay County Administrator Brian Berg, Moorhead administrator Mike Redlinger, and Eric Dodds of AE2S.

OFFICIALS PROPOSE DRAFT LAND MANAGEMENT PLAN

Members of the Diversion Authority’s Land Management Committee are reviewing a draft version of a detailed plan that will guide how land will be acquired for the Red River diversion project and how individual property owners might be compensated.

The Land Management Committee will comment on the draft plan before it’s presented to the full Diversion Authority sometime this summer.

The Land Management Plan “will be a living document, updated periodically as the project advances and policy decisions are made,” said Jon Diebel of CH2M Hill, the authority’s contracted project management team.

Officials expect land acquisitions to occur across several years ending no later than the end of 2018.

Excluding hardship cases, officials start buyouts only after the $1.78 billion project is authorized by Congress, which isn’t expected until at least 2013.

According to the draft plan, officials are seeking to acquire land that affects 1,451 parcels and 831 individual property owners.

The land in question includes the diversion footprint itself and the controversial upstream staging area, where 1,116 parcels of land will be affected by temporary water storage south of the channel.

Land acquisition alone is estimated to make up $255 million of the total $1.78 billion project cost.

Throughout the design, acquisition and construction phases of the project, officials will work from the northern end of the channel southward.

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