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Homeowners plagued by annual flooding seek new homes, peace of mind

Doug Stensgard's new townhouse is four miles north of his former Heritage Hills home on what he calls a "high and dry" lot. Stensgard could only get to his former home south of Fargo with a boat for three weeks during the 2009 flood. "It was just...

Doug Stensgard with his dog
Doug Stensgard, with his dog Annie, said it was a relief to receive a buyout on his flood-prone home. Photo by Heidi Shaffer / The Forum

Doug Stensgard's new townhouse is four miles north of his former Heritage Hills home on what he calls a "high and dry" lot.

Stensgard could only get to his former home south of Fargo with a boat for three weeks during the 2009 flood.

"It was just a battle to stay dry," Stensgard said of the experience saving his former house on the confluence of the Wild Rice and Red rivers.

Stensgard and his two sons saved their home in 2009, but took a buyout from Cass County and moved out of Heritage Hills as the floodwaters began to rise again last March.

"It was a relief," he said. "We were getting tired of the flood. I enjoyed it out there ... but it's a lot of stress and expense."

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Taking a buyout is a relief from the stresses of immediate flood danger, but former Oxbow resident Joan Wolff said she will never forget her flood experience.

Wolff was evacuated from her home south of Fargo by airboat in 2009 and took a Cass County buyout later that year.

She resettled in Moorhead, far from the Red, yet she still purchased flood insurance.

"I'm just leery once it's happened," she said.

Wolff said she still often thinks about the flood, reliving it through the journals she kept in 2009.

There's solace in accepting a buyout, but it was difficult to leave her tight-knit Oxbow neighborhood that had bonded over the flooding that would eventually split them up, she said.

"We were just like a little family," she said.

Bittersweet, but no regrets

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Bruce and Vikki Johnson moved out of their Riverview Circle home in Moorhead last week.

The couple had less than a day to decide whether to accept the buyout, but so far they have no regrets, said Vikki, who opened the packet and signed a blank purchase agreement.

"I didn't even read it," she said. "I'm like, 'I'm done.' "

The couple purchased the home in 1996. The following spring brought what they thought was the flood of the century. In 2009, the Johnsons had a 6-foot sandbag dike in their backyard.

The buyout was the lesser of two evils, Vikki said.

She didn't want to face another flood this year, but it was bittersweet leaving behind neighbors who had become like family to the Johnsons, Vikki said.

"We were the weakest link," she said. "You take the weakest link of the equation, you protect our low spots, and it saves a lot of other people."

The Johnsons decided to rent a townhouse while figuring out what they want in a new home. But one thing is certain: "We will be on the east side of Moorhead - far from the river," Vikki said.

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Joan Wolff's poetry, after 2009 flood

The flood it rolls

Cleanses the soul

There's nothing to do.

Nothing to do.

But watch it take

Everything you make.

I've lost so much

Cried so little

Can never touch

All that's real.

To most others

They think of

A couch, rugs

Many things

they've loved.

My real hurt comes

From all the loss

Of my inner self

That must be tossed.

A blog of Joan Wolff's poetry can be found at flooddiary.areavoices.com

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511

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