GARDNER, N.D. — Jeff Turner lives about a half mile from the Red River east of Gardner in far northern Cass County. And he's simply "sick of fighting" floods.
He appeared at a recent Cass County commissioners meeting with County Engineer Jason Benson to ask about a possible buyout of the acreage where he and his family "love living."
Benson said after last year's turbulent spring flooding, there have been about seven other requests for buyouts from rural residents scattered along the river after almost six years when there were hardly any requests.
The county engineer is seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency pre-disaster funds, but if the residents don't receive the federal aid they need, he wanted to raise awareness that he may be asking county commissioners to consider using some of the one-half of 1% county sales tax fund for the buyouts.
Turner is hoping that happens.
He said during the 27 years his family has lived on the historic, 140-year-old farm, they have fought floods about a dozen of those years.
Turner has many stories about what his family has endured. Thanks to a ring dike, the stately 1913 house surrounded by 70 feet of porch has never been damaged. However, he said his three outbuildings have had from 3 feet to 8 feet of water in them during most of the floods.
Even getting to his home has been challenging during many of floods when 3 feet of water covered nearby roads and highways. That's why he owns a boat he has used several times to get to his home while his family went to Fargo to stay in a motel. Among his stories are taking his boat through white caps in the floodwaters covering plowed fields, being without electricity for more than a month and watching for looters after the sheriff's office issued a warning.
On top of that, flood insurance, which he has been told costs as much as residents along the country's coasts pay, isn't what it's cracked up to be. For example, if his home did flood, he was told the adjusters determine the amount of damage but wouldn't pay for the entire home even if damages were severe.
If he gets a buyout, he would join about 850 other property owners in Cass and Clay counties who have sold their homes during the past few decades. Benson said 175 residences have been bought out in Cass County, with 171 using FEMA funds and four using local funds.
Benson told commissioners the county changed its policy in 2017 to allow buyouts using the sales tax money and since that time it has only been used once.
Newly appointed County Commissioner Ken Pawluk said at the meeting that he would rather see the funds instead used for ring dikes.
However, Benson said some of the homes being considered are near the river and their homes are in danger because of slumping riverbanks caused by flooding.
Commissioner Chad Peterson asked Benson if Clay County was doing any buyouts on their side of the river in that area. Benson didn't know for sure.
However, Clay County Planning Director Matt Jacobson said in a recent interview he knows of no plans for buyouts. Clay County has had the fewest home buyouts of local governments in the two-county area with only about 30, mostly by rivers. The City of Moorhead has had 270 buyouts since 2009, while Fargo has had about 370 since 1990; 245 of those happened in the years following the major flood of 2009.
The question was also raised at the county commission meeting whether Turner's property was within the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion protection zone. Turner said "no" because the diversion channel would enter the river about four miles south of his home.
So the Cass County commissioners may face the issue of buyouts using the sales tax money. About 6% of that countywide funding is set aside for flood control projects such as dams, levees, lift stations, repairs to current infrastructure and detention facilities with the rest going to the diversion project.
Since voters approved the countywide tax in 2010, Cass County has undertaken about 40 projects totaling about $5.3 million, according to Benson.
Those projects included levee or dam improvements and repairs in Argusville, Mapleton, Casselton, Harwood, Arthur and Hunter. A levee project is also planned for Davenport this year. One of the biggest projects has been about $1 million spent on the Upper Maple River dam.
"We've had a lot of great projects that the county has set aside to protect rural communities and farms," Benson said after the meeting.
He noted the final leg of a mapping project is underway in the rural areas to provide FEMA and other officials information about where homes shouldn't be built and to prevent the need for property owners to buy expensive flood insurance in some areas.