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Cass County preps for flood buyouts

FARGO - First they fought the Red River. Now it's time to take on the red tape.

Cass County took initial steps Monday to set up its federal-backed buyout program, naming a group that will select which areas will be the program's focus.

"The earlier we can do that, the better it'll be," said Irv Rustad, executive director of Lake Agassiz Regional Council.

Rustad administered the county's buyout effort in the wake of the 1997 flood and is doing the same this year. If Federal Emergency Management Agency hazard mitigation grants get the OK, buyouts could start as soon as July, he said.

Residents of homes south of Fargo told commissioners Monday that speed is of the essence. Knowing how to proceed isn't possible if they're not sure whether a buyout is on the table.

Melissa Dixon, who lives in a twinhome in the Orchard Glen subdivision, got an estimate for what moving her home off its wrecked foundation would cost: $55,000, without the new foundation included.

If buyout details lag too long and she ends up fixing her home, "You'll have a horrible fight trying to move me later," she said.

Wayne and Shelly Thuen, of the Chrisan neighborhood off 71st Avenue South, are in a similar situation, unsure whether to rebuild.

"Why do that when supposedly we'll be bought out anyway?" Wayne Thuen said.

County officials tried to tamp expectations.

"I know it's going to seem like it's taking too long," said Commissioner Ken Pawluk. "I'm sorry for that, but I just want to prepare you."

Rustad said those interested in a buyout can start the ball rolling now and still pull back. A buyout isn't final until the county closes on the property.

Pawluk will sit on the committee setting buyout priorities with County Engineer Keith Berndt, County Auditor Michael Montplaisir and Frank Klein, county tax director.

They will identify which areas being cleared would benefit flood prevention the most, given the potential for future flood protection stretching south from Fargo, Montplaisir said.

Buyouts are voluntary. A buyout amount is based on two appraisals of pre-flood value, he said.

Rustad said he hoped the group would have priorities set by the May 4 commission meeting.

To get on the list

To get on Cass County's list of properties that might be offered buyouts, call the assessor's office at (701) 241-5617.