FARGO — Dick and Margie Bailly thought they would live in their Fargo home along the Red River until the day they were taken to the nursing home.
They laughed at the joke as they talked about the South River Drive house they lived in for almost 40 years. The home where they raised their three boys was identified in 2012 for a flood protection buyout.
In August 2013, the family closed the front door to the house one last time. They were told to have the home swept clean, and Dick Bailly remembers vacuuming the rooms, preparing what he called his dream home to be demolished.
“That part was emotional, getting it ready,” he said. “It was almost like dressing up your loved one after they had died for a funeral.”
A black-and-white photo of the house hangs in the entryway of their new home on Sterling Rose Lane, which is about a mile southwest from where their old house stood. It was hard to leave behind the home that defined much of their lives, but they felt the buyout process was transparent and that they got a fair settlement in exchange for their sacrifice, they said.
The Baillys are among hundreds of homeowners who gave up their houses during buyout rounds over the last decade. Since 2009 brought record flooding to the metro area, almost 900 homes in Cass and Clay counties, including in the cities of Fargo and Moorhead, were purchased with more than $250 million in local, state and federal funds to make way for flood protection projects, including the diversion, according to a Forum analysis.
By the numbers
Moorhead leads the pack in home buyouts since 2009, with 263 homes purchased for a total of $62.9 million, according to the city. That does not include the 60 home buyouts that totaled $8 million in Oakport, which was annexed by the city of Moorhead in 2015, or the 18 homes in Georgetown, Minn., bought out for a total of $1.4 million.
None of those homes were purchased by the Diversion Authority, which oversees the $2.75 billion diversion project that, once built, would redirect floodwater into a channel skirting the metro area.
"None of our acquisitions were specific to the diversion project," Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said. "However, the two efforts — i.e. city projects and the diversion project — are complementary."
Fargo was second on the list with 235 home buyouts over the last decade — 13 for the diversion and 222 for other flood protection projects, according to figures from the city. The city spent $81.5 million for buyouts, and the Diversion Authority spent about $3 million on buyouts in Fargo.
Since 2009, Cass County has bought 175 homes for $38.3 million and the Diversion Authority has purchased 18 homes in Cass County for $13 million.
Those numbers don’t include the buyouts in Oxbow, N.D., where the Diversion Authority spent $39.3 million on 42 properties.
Clay County had 44 buyouts totaling about $7.9 million, and an additional two homes were bought for the diversion.
Nonresidential properties also have been bought for flood protection. For example, the Diversion Authority has purchased six other properties in Fargo — businesses, apartments, vacant lots — for about $15.9 million in the last decade.
From destruction to 'beauty'
Buying homes for flood protection and the diversion is not over, officials say. Fargo intends to buy at least 28 more homes to build floodwalls and levees. Moorhead expects to purchase between 68 and 91 more homes. And the Diversion Authority estimates it will buy up to 110 more homes.
Earlier this month, the Diversion Authority sent out letters to 550 property owners regarding potential land acquisition. In total, it has budgeted $502 million to buy property.
Some have taken issue with the amount of money spent on buyouts for flood protection. Rocky Schneider, a consultant for the Diversion Authority, said it’s hard to balance using taxpayer funds for buyouts responsibly and making sure property owners who give up their homes are properly compensated.
“If you get too far in one direction, you get accused of overspending taxpayer dollars,” he said. “If you tip it too much the other way, you are sort of being unfair to those who are losing their homes.”
Margie Bailly, former executive director of the Fargo Theatre, said she hoped the flood protection improvements made throughout the community could turn a river that caused pain and destruction into “a stream of beauty” that can provide opportunities for the region.
Owners of property needed for flood protection projects, in some cases, have refused to sell. But for Dick Bailly, he was fine with sacrificing his home if it meant saving his neighborhood or the rest of the city. He said others should be prepared to do the same if it helps Fargo.
"I feel we have done our part to help the city by giving up our property," he said.