FARGO — The word "flood" hasn't been bandied about much this spring, but 12 years ago the story was different.

When the flood that struck the Fargo-Moorhead area a dozen years ago hit its crest on March 28, 2009, the Red River reached 40.84 feet, setting a record that stands to this day.

In the flood's wake, the cities of Fargo and Moorhead embarked on flood mitigation steps that continue into 2021, including home buyout programs.

The city of Fargo has completed 256 property acquisitions since 2009, and it has two purchase agreements signed that will close by the end of April, bringing the total to 258.

In addition to that, the city has five potential property acquisitions that have yet to be completed.

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The total cost of the 258 properties purchased by Fargo as part of its flood buyout program is just over $107 million, according to Nathan Boerboom, division engineer for the city of Fargo.

"At this time, we do not know what the purchase prices will be for the remaining five acquisitions," he added.

Boerboom said the buyouts impacted the lives of many Fargo residents, and city officials remain mindful of that fact, just as they know that without the buyouts Fargo would not have been as successful in completing more than 22 miles of levees and floodwalls within the city since 2009.

"The completion of these projects ... reduce our sandbag needs by approximately 5 million if we were to experience a spring flood similar to 2009 again," Boerboom said.

"These 22 miles of levees and floodwalls are also necessary components of the overall Fargo-Moorhead Metro Flood Diversion Project, so that we can safely pass the planned flows through Fargo without needing to construct any emergency levees once the diversion project is completed," he said.

Moorhead buyouts ongoing

Over the past dozen years, the city of Moorhead has acquired 268 properties as part of its flood mitigation efforts.

As of early April, the city was scheduled to close on eight additional properties, seven of which had structures on them, bringing the total number of properties bought out since 2009 to 276.

That will leave about 35 remaining properties identified as eligible that have not been acquired, according to Bob Zimmerman, Moorhead's city engineer, who said that since 2009 the city has communicated with all of those property owners regarding possible buyouts.

"Moving forward, our near-term priority will be infrastructure projects. We have five projects remaining to be funded," Zimmerman said.

"The total cost for completed and in-process flood buyouts in Moorhead is at about $66 million," he said, adding the city anticipates future costs for buyouts to be from $12 million to $13 million.

Zimmerman said the acquisitions completed so far in Moorhead removed a large number of structures that were directly at risk for flood damage.

"More importantly," he added, "those acquisitions have facilitated the construction of just under 13 miles of levees that provide protection to thousands properties off of the riverfront."

For about the past decade, government buyout programs have spelled opportunity for Schmidt and Sons Building Movers of Kindred, N.D.

Schmidt and Sons Building Movers from Kindred move a home along University Drive in south Fargo on Thursday, April 1, 2021.
David Samson / The Forum
Schmidt and Sons Building Movers from Kindred move a home along University Drive in south Fargo on Thursday, April 1, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

The business is operated by Bob and Tammy Schmidt, along with their sons, John and Skyler.

John Schmidt, who started in the business at the age of 3 when his parents took him to work sites, said that for the past ten years moving homes as part of flood buyout programs has been a major part of what they do.

In addition to moving many homes in the Fargo-Moorhead area, Schmidt said the company handled nearly every move connected to a buyout program in the Oxbow area.

How much does it cost to move a house?

The business has been so steady, Schmidt said, that sometimes they have to pass on other types of work, such as people who are looking for someone to lift their home so a new foundation can be placed underneath.

"It (the flood buyout activity) almost hurts us in a way, because we're so focused on those big projects we're not able to assist the regular population," John Schmidt said.

The foundation of the home along 5th St. S. in Fargo remains from the home that was moved on Thursday, April 1, 2021.
David Samson / The Forum
The foundation of the home along 5th St. S. in Fargo remains from the home that was moved on Thursday, April 1, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

A recent project involved raising a rambler-style home from its foundation on property owned by the Fargo Country Club and transporting it out of Fargo via University Drive South.

That particular job was not part of the city's flood buyout program and details about the house and where it finally ended up were not available.

However, the move itself went smoothly, according to John Schmidt, who said the job required about two days of preparation work, one day of transport, and about two days of unloading.

The price of moving a house usually starts around $20,000 for smaller homes and increases to $150,000-$200,000 for large homes, he said.

One innovation that made the job of moving buildings easier over the past ten years or so was the introduction of hydraulic dollies, which make maneuvering heavy loads less difficult, he said.

The move involving the house from the country club area may not even have been possible in the past, at least not using the same route.

"Some of those tight corners, if we had a fixed axle underneath the house, we never would have been able to make those corners," John Schmidt said.

He noted that normally the house-moving industry slows down or even stops during the winter because cold temperatures make such work a miserable endeavor.

But this past year was different.

"We didn't shut down at all, because it was so nice all year," John Schmidt said, and he added that his family's business could be doing twice as many jobs as they are now if they could find enough workers to help.

"There's nobody out there to hire. You look around, everybody is hiring," he said.