Ward County shares acquisition money with Minot

Jill Schramm/MDN Minot Finance Director David Lakefield speaks to the Ward County Commission Tuesday.

Ward County will share just over $5 million in property acquisition dollars with the City of Minot, with the possibility of making more money available in a few months.

Minot submitted a request for Ward County’s excess state money because the city is running short on available funds to continue its own acquisitions in the footprint of the flood protection project.

“We have had to slow down because of the lack of funding,” Finance Director David Lakefield said. “This would allow us to acquire additional properties.”

He said the State Water Commission wants the city to look at spending existing funds within the county before it allocates more money for acquisitions.

The Ward County Commission had agreed several months ago to release some of its funds to the Souris River Joint Board for use by Minot. Commissioners wanted a list of properties, though, so Lakefield appeared at their meeting Tuesday with the city’s proposal.

The county has about $5.5 million remaining for property acquisitions but only three properties that it is working to acquire. The commission voted to send letters to the property owners again to gauge their interest in participating in voluntary buyouts. If the owners do not respond or indicate no interest, the commission would consider releasing that buyout money to Minot in addition to the $5.05 million approved Tuesday.

The city is using the voluntary acquisition process to purchase homes in the footprint of the first four phases of the flood protection project. Lakefield said the city already has purchased or is in the process of acquiring $23 million in properties in the first four phases.

Ward County’s sharing of acquisition funds had been recommended by a new county Flood Planning and Recovery Committee, which the commission decided Tuesday to make a permanent standing committee.

Commissioners also adopted the committee’s recommendation to ask the SRJB to investigate the feasibility of hiring an engineer to determine whether any of the rural levees in the county can be certified with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The levees are those protecting Sawyer and subdivisions between Minot and Burlington. The certifications would not be to U.S. Army Corps of Engineer standards, but it may be possible to certify dikes as providing enough protection to impact flood insurance rates.

Commissioner Alan Walter warned that certification is an expensive process, based on the city of Velva’s cost of more than $200,000 to certify about 1.25 miles of levy to a flow rate of 10,000 cubic feet a second.

Walter, who has been working with Velva as engineer, said the levee is being certified as required by the Corps.

“They are pretty much already there,” he said of the current condition of the levees. Some work is being done on the east side to address drainage after borings showed high water could put an undue amount of pressure on the levee.

Velva received a State Water Commission grant but a good share of the cost is being borne by taxpayers. However, the certification will mean lower flood insurance rates for the community.

On a separate flood matter, the commission voted to accept a bid of about $27,000 for cleanup of a flooded property at Rice Lake.

The county will send its $27,000 to the property owner, although the property could come to the county for back taxes, at which time the cost will be assessed against the property as part of the redemption or sale price. In the meantime, the county has funds obtained through foreclosure auctions to cover the cleanup ordered by First District Health Unit.

Highway engineer Dana Larsen said most of the properties damaged from flooding at Rice Lake have been cleaned up. Residents dealt with flooding and recovery issues for several years after water rose dramatically in 2011.

Larsen said he is aware of only one other Rice Lake property facing an order for clean up. The county is not involved with that property and would not become involved unless the owner fails to take responsibility.