FARGO – Diversion Authority officials want to hire a property management firm to oversee any early buyouts the board finalizes before the Red River diversion is authorized and funded by Congress.
The issue of property management first arose last month after Oxbow Mayor Jim Nyhof resisted an initial lease agreement with the Diversion Authority that would have required Oxbow to be liable for any bought-out properties the city leased back from the authority board.
The first three buyouts associated with the Red River diversion project are cases of medical hardship – all in Oxbow, where residents who want to sell their homes can’t because of the impending threat of the diversion project.
The Red River diversion plans could displace Oxbow and other nearby communities in order to accommodate a temporary water storage area south of the diversion channel.
Under normal circumstances, the Diversion Authority doesn’t plan to purchase land or property affected by the project until Congress authorizes construction, which likely won’t happen until 2013 at the earliest.
But with some residents already facing negative impacts, officials allowed a few early buyouts under a hardship program adopted this spring.
Because the properties may not need to be removed for several years, the Diversion Authority extended the option for local municipalities to lease back the property to temporary tenants until the property is needed for the project.
But local governing boards – namely Oxbow – aren’t inclined to be landlords.
As a solution, diversion officials decided to solicit applications from property management firms to take on that responsibility, senior program manager Jon Diebel said.
The property manager would oversee lease agreements for bought-out properties and maintain the properties on the authority’s behalf, among other duties, Diebel said.
The Diversion Authority is accepting applications from property management firms this month, with the intention of selecting one by early September, Diebel said.
Meanwhile, the three hardship buyouts approved earlier this summer by the authority are moving forward, diversion project consultant Eric Dodds said.
An appraiser has visited all three homes in Oxbow, and officials are working toward completing the appraisal review this month, he said.
The appraisals will help determine the official offer that the authority will extend to the homeowners.
Dodds said the appraisals should be ready for the authority’s review by September.
The authority’s Agricultural Policy Subcommittee plans to tackle a big topic at its meeting Tuesday: How the project could affect federal crop insurance coverage, particularly in upstream communities affected by a temporary water storage area.
Doug Hagel of the regional Risk Management Agency – which oversees crop insurance programs – and Scott Stofferahn, state director for Sen. Kent Conrad, will provide information and answer questions.
The meeting is open to the public. It begins at 7 p.m. in the Cass County Highway Department, 1201 Main Ave. W., West Fargo.
Mark your calendars
As I reported in Friday’s Forum, next month will be another milestone for the Red River diversion project.
Sept. 13 is when an official recommendation is due from several design studies that began after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval to the project in April.
Those studies could yield significant changes to the project, such as final alterations to the southern alignment.
Given the wealth of wealth of information that will come out on Sept. 13, officials have arranged three opportunities for the public to hear the news that day.
The first two events – an informational government meeting in the morning and the Diversion Authority’s board meeting that afternoon – are geared toward the metro area’s governing leadership.
Those gatherings will be open anyone who wants to attend.
That evening, the Diversion Authority also plans to sponsor an open house and a formal presentation for area residents.
Residents can hear directly from officials, ask questions and offer their immediate input on any proposed changes to the project.
Details on these public meetings will be forthcoming, Dodds said.
The authority also intends to offer other public hearings through early October, before the Diversion Authority votes on the recommended changes and decides on a final path forward.
Anyone who wants to brush up on the basics of the Red River diversion project can do so from the comfort of their computer.
The Diversion Authority has launched its own YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/fmdiversion featuring educational presentations targeted for the general public.
The seven videos available so far span a variety of topics that explain the project and the process of how current plans were devised.
The videos were recorded July 13 when diversion officials made presentations to the North Dakota Water Education Foundation.
Have a question about the proposed Red River diversion, or want to recommend a topic you’d like to see addressed in an upcoming column? Send an e-mail to Forum reporter Kristen Daum at firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject: Diversion Discussion) or write to Kristen Daum c/o The Forum, P.O. Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. (Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.)