Landowners are emotionally advocating higher FM rerouting buyout prices

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Sauvageau, who lives southeast of Horace, believes they should get what they want for the land they need for a 320-acre wetland development project designed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The wetlands will replace other wetlands that will be lost due to the construction of the diversion.

“It’s ours, not yours. It’s our property, ”Sauvageau told the Cass County Commission, which heard eight landowners or their lawyers at a three-hour meeting Monday, October 18.

The Sauvageaus remain upset that they and the other landowners may have to go to court to reach an agreement. They questioned the negotiating process they are going through with the Cass County Joint Water Resource District Board.

The five-person water council, which meets regularly last year, has the task of negotiating and regulating issues such as land and easement prices with the help of real estate agents from a private company.

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Despite a cascade of financial and structural advances on the diversion project over the past year, the complaints have been evidence that the battle between developers and landowners – some of whom have owned their families for generations – is not over.

This time it was the emotional Sauvageau who, together with his wife Kristie, vehemently protested against what they were being offered for numerous properties in the Horace area. They will also be forced to sell their homestead and find a new place to stay.

“I don’t think people understand the sacrifice we are making,” Sauvageau told the commissioners. “It was very stressful.”

Terry Sauvageau speaks out against the Fargo-Moorhead diversion during an assessment meeting on Tuesday June 6th 2017 at the Fargodome.  Michael Vosburg / Forum picture editor

Terry Sauvageau speaks out against the Fargo-Moorhead diversion during an assessment meeting on Tuesday June 6th 2017 at the Fargodome. Michael Vosburg / Forum picture editor

The commissioners are not required to be involved in negotiations, but must check under state law that they are being carried out in good faith and that the property owners are not threatened with the sale of their property.

Over the past few months Commissioners have voted unanimously to trust that negotiations will be conducted in good faith and that threats will not be made every time they are faced with a “quick admission” or a potentially important domain case.

On Monday, the landowners and their lawyers complained that negotiations with the water authority were not going well.

Most of the objections were arguments that land values ​​have skyrocketed as sales of land nearby are much higher than the prices on offer. These offers are mostly based on reviews that were created a year ago.

Sauvageau insisted that they not “ask about the moon”.

“I think we can fix that,” he said of the roughly $ 3,000 to $ 4,000 an acre difference for part of their land.

Igor Lenzner, whose law firm in St. Cloud represented around 45 landowners with 100 parcels in the diversion project, said we miss the negotiation process “We have to fix it. We have the chance now.”

Lenzner, who spoke on behalf of some landowners at Monday’s hearing, said the courts would be overflowing with cases that could go to major domain lawsuits where a judge will deliver a final verdict on settlements.

Cass County chairman Chad Peterson said he appreciated the Sauvageau sacrifice, but took offense at the comment that Fargo residents who were being bought up along the Red River were receiving a “premium” price.

Peterson said there were also many who didn’t want to sell and weren’t getting the price they wanted.

In another of the county board cases, Shirley Richards said the offer on her stretch of land near a commercial development in the Horace area was “extremely undervalued.” She said they only received one offer during a year-long process.

Richards said they are charging $ 32,000 per acre based on other sales nearby where developers are buying up some of the land, rather than the $ 15,000 per acre offered by the Water Board.

She said they even offered a land trade on a nearby lot, but Eric Dodds, a consultant who runs a private land brokerage team working on the project, said he thought there was a slippery slope.

Dodds said once the county board made “quick decisions” a new valuation would be made, which would likely reflect higher prices caused by rapid growth in the Horace region. After the reassessment, he said, negotiations would resume before the case possibly goes to court.

Eric Dodds, a consultant working for the diversion agency on land acquisitions, listens to speakers at the Cass County Commission meeting on Monday, August 4, 2020.  David Samson / The Forum

Eric Dodds, a consultant working for the diversion agency on land acquisitions, listens to speakers at the Cass County Commission meeting on Monday, August 4, 2020. David Samson / The Forum

They have completed about 600 land transactions, Dodds said, adding that he finds it “hard to believe that (the negotiation) process has broken down”.

Jacob Gust, a manager on the Cass County Water Board and operator of the successful Sheyenne River Diversion, which has been protecting West Fargo for 20 years, said he believes the joint board is carefully following the law.

“I don’t think it’s true” that the water council is failing to negotiate, he said after hearing comments about Zoom during the district council meeting.

“We are very careful about compliance with federal and state laws,” said Gust after the meeting.

He said he understands the landowners’ frustration and that people don’t want to sell.

“But it has to be done,” he said, adding that the diversion should have been built 50 years ago to prevent flooding problems along the Red River.

Gust said they don’t want to pay too much for land either, as they use tax money.

“It’s a tough balance, to say the least,” he said. “We try to be as fair as possible.”

The area chosen for the new wetland is in the right place, Gust said, as it is on the south bank near Nordhorace and will hold back water in the event of a major flood.

Unfortunately, many of the residents who had to sell their land were on the “dry side” a few years ago, but when the diversion was switched to Plan B, some properties were moved to the “wet side”.

Overall, Gust said he believed the board was doing the right thing when it came to negotiating and the diversion itself, citing the success of the Sheyenne diversion protecting the West Fargo area.

The district board seemed to agree that they are on the right track, but hoped the negotiating process could be improved.

Peterson said he wished disputes over land prices could be resolved before they hit the county board and then potentially go to court.

Commissioner Rick Steen said he realized that landowners who are losing their land “suck for a lot of people. But we have to get this built”.

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