The acquisition of the land necessary to build the F-M Area Diversion Project is underway.
Overall, the Diversion Project will require the acquisition of approximately $350-$400 million in land rights. This includes more than 1,300 parcels and approximately 7,000 acres along the channel footprint. The land rights include fee titles, permanent easements and temporary easements.
One of the goals of the entire land acquisition process is to be friendly, flexible and fair.
To date, there have been seven residential acquisitions along with 10 additional agreements in place for other types of parcels, including farmland. In total, 1,872 acres have been acquired. Acquisitions in progress include land needed for the Oxbow-Hickson-Bakke Ring Levee, in-town levees within Fargo and Moorhead, and lands along the Diversion Project channel which runs from the Project’s Outlet to the Rush River. Some of the lands that have been acquired along the channel may be used for mitigation and/or land trading purposes.
In addition, appraisers are working on a couple hardship applications, and are working with several willing sellers of farmland.
Timing of Acquisitions
Many of the acquisitions will be completed in what is called a “Planned Acquisition” process. “This means the design has progressed to a certain point, and now we know that we need to do to progress and get the land acquired,” said Eric Dodds, Land Management Consultant.
“We have been successful thus far in performing ‘Opportunistic’ acquisitions, which are situations in which we have a willing seller that has approached us or has land at an auction,” said Dodds.
Finally, a “Condemnation” acquisition may be needed in cases in which a Planned Acquisition has begun, but both parties are unable to come to an agreement on a price.
The typical process for each land acquisition involves five main steps:
- Confirm Need for Property. The technical or design teams identify where a Diversion Project structure will be built and which properties will be affected.
- Authorize Acquisition. Contracting processes and task orders are begun.
- Conduct Appraisal. The firm conducting the appraisal visits the affected property, meets with the property owner, evaluates comparable properties, produces a draft appraisal report for review by the Corps of Engineers, and then finalizes the appraisal report.
- Negotiate Acquisition. An initial offer is made to the property owner based on the approved appraisal report, negotiations begin, and both parties come to terms with the purchase agreement.
- Coordinate Relocation. Relocation of residential property is coordinated to a comparable property that is decent, safe and sanitary.
Attorneys from Ohnstad Twichell Law Firm and Fargo Law Office are working with The Title Company on the closing process for all land acquisitions.
Some of the challenges being faced in land acquisition include a shortage of available appraisers. “There is a limited number of appraisers who are licensed to do work in North Dakota, and many of them are busy. There is a lot of activity in other parts of the state,” said Dodds. In addition, there are some unique circumstances associated with this project that have resulted in longer appraisal timeframes than originally anticipated.
Several actions are being taken to address the challenges. The Cass County Joint Water Resource District is acquiring the North Dakota land needed for the project. The Program Management team has a local and full-time lands manager working on land acquisition with the help of additional staff. Also, specialty firms have been engaged to offer expertise, and several improved reporting tools have been developed to streamline processes and allow for more opportunistic and voluntary acquisitions.