The Mayor of Oxbow, Jim Nyhof, has a letter to the editor of the Fargo Forum today in which he defends his position on the controversial Fargo flood diversion project.
That position has evolved over the year, as his community has received the promise of a new country club and property buyouts averaging double the assessed values (plus six-figure relocation payments), and Nyhof says we should pay attention to what he’s saying about the diversion now instead of circa 2011.
You know, before the country club agreement and sweetheart buyouts.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]The Fargo property owners are averaging just over $37, 000 per property, whereas the Oxbow properties are getting 321 percent more, or an average of $157,000 per property.[/mks_pullquote]
“My letter in 2011 was to request the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider saving the city I so passionately serve,” Nyhof writes. He also takes a shot at “barstool engineers” who claim that Oxbow has sufficient flood protection today.
But all this seems beside the point. Water issues are always controversial. They always generate faction. “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over,” as the apocryphal saying goes. We could have a thorough and robust debate about the different ways to address, or not address as the case may be, the flooding of communities in the Fargo area.
What Mayor Nyhof is skirting, and what desperately needs to be addressed, is what’s going on with these buyouts.
The proponents of the buyouts say that the property valuations aren’t accurate, but that’s a problem because state law requires that property valuations be within 10 percent of the market value. To be fair, the proposed buyouts in Fargo are so far averaging 128 percent of their assessed value, so those are outside the 10 percent law too. But there’s a big difference between 28 percent above the assessed value and double the assessed value.
There’s also a big gap between relocation compensation being paid on Fargo properties versus Oxbow properties. The Fargo property owners are averaging just over $37, 000 per property, whereas the Oxbow properties are getting 321 percent more, or an average of $157,000 per property.
Why were the assessed values so far off in Oxbow as compared to Fargo? Why is there such an enormous gap in relocation compensation? Or is there some other explanation as to why Oxbow property owners (including Nyhof himself) are getting so much more than Fargo property owners? City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn is calling it a buyoff.
Is that an unfair accusation? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. The thing is that pro-diversion officials like Nyhof and others keep dodging the questions people like Piepkorn are asking. They want to disparage everyone asking the questions as somehow being in against protecting communities from flooding.
But right now, the flood diversion issue is beside the point. We need to understand why a wealthy, influential enclave of citizens is getting what appears to be a sweetheart deal on their properties in exchange for not opposing the flood diversion project some Fargo leaders want.