FARGO — Jeremy and Nichole Holck bought their home along the Red River near Horace, N.D., in 2005. They were the last to move into a cluster of homes on an oxbow of the river.
Now their house stands where local governments want to build the Red River control structure for the $2.75 billion diversion that will carry floodwater around the Fargo-Moorhead metro area.
The Cass County Joint Water Resource District has offered the Holcks $488,000 for their property. The Holcks’ counteroffer is a bit more than $1 million — a price the county refuses to pay.
The impasse now could be one of nine new cases headed to a judge to decide after action on Monday, Sept. 21, by the Cass County Commission. In a series of 5-0 votes, commissioners decided to authorize “last resort” quick file eminent domain actions to take the properties needed for the diversion.
The action doesn’t necessarily mean the disputes will end up in court. Officials say they will continue to work with property owners to reach agreement — a confusing process Jeremy Holck told commissioners is frustrating.
“We’ve never been told the process,” he said, adding that his contacts with negotiators dating back years have been limited to meetings lasting no more than 15 minutes each.
“Our property’s been severely undervalued,” Holck said. “We’re not trying to get rich,” he added, but said housing costs have skyrocketed since they built in 2005, making finding a comparable replacement expensive.
“I think we’ve been more than fair” in negotiating with the county, Holck told commissioners. Although reluctant to go to court, “We’re prepared to take the legal steps we need to.”
Commissioner Ken Pawluk said Monday’s vote to authorize eminent domain proceedings could help the Holcks find resolution.
“This will end up before a judge,” an independent arbiter who will determine a fair price for their property, Pawluk said.
Of the nine cases addressed Monday, Holck was the only property owner heard by the commission. The nine cases are among an estimated 50 to 70 land parcels for which officials and property owners have failed to come to terms.
Agreements must be in hand before bids can be received by a consortium of companies to build the 30-mile diversion channel for the project, work that officials want to begin next year.
Other parcels that will be headed to court if agreements aren’t reached soon that came before commissioners Monday:
Larry and Leone Roth of Glen Ullin, N.D., have been offered $5,040 for 0.84 acres of farmland in one parcel and an easement for another 1.79 acres valued at $1,790 over five years. The Roths have asked for $7,500. An agreement is expected soon.
Nancy Loberg of West Fargo owns farm land in Mapleton Township needed for the diversion channel. The land appraised value given to officials was $522,600, updated to $508,590. Lober is asking $560,000 plus 10% of appraised value.
Thuneberg Living Trust of West Chapel, Fla., owns land needed for the diversion channel appraised at $1.1 million, or $9,000 an acre. The trust is asking for $1.96 million, or $10,500 per acre.
Paul and Carolyn Thoen of Kindred, N.D., own farm land needed for the project’s southern embankment. The appraised value is $18,500. No counteroffer has been received.
Larry Brandt Trust owns farm land needed for the southern embankment and Red River control structure appraised at $231,500. No counteroffer has been received.
Derek Flaten of West Fargo owns land and a home on the diversion path that has been appraised at $1.5 million, including 63.27 acres at $7,636 per acre and $966,000 for the home — built after officials advised Flaten that it would be in the path of the diversion. Flaten is asking for $2.65 million.
Mary Newman Trust owns farm and commercial land needed for the diversion channel appraised at $423,000 and $171,925. The parcels include billboards, which complicates efforts to value the land. Officials have not received a counteroffer.