Moorhead buys houses; moves them out of flood zoneby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Moorhead, Minn. — Last spring, River Haven Road in Moorhead was the scene of a frantic effort to save homes from flooding. This month some of those homes are being lifted off their foundations and hauled away.
Milbank House Movers President Josh Wendland is scrambling to move as many as 20 houses out of harms' way before a spring flood.
"It's just a shame if you see a perfectly good house get demolished, when they're going to be able to be sold to residents of Moorhead or anybody at a greatly reduced cost, compared to buying something of this caliber or new," Wendland said.
Volunteers start filling sandbags Monday in Moorhead and Fargo to prepare for possible flooding this spring. But Moorhead will need fewer sandbags this year because there are fewer homes in the flood zone.
Moorhead plans to purchase about 50 homes and hopes to recycle up to 30 of them. Across the river, Fargo purchased 24 homes in flood-prone areas. They are being demolished to make way for levees.
The houses in Moorhead will be parked in a field about a mile away and put up for sale.
By recycling homes to new developments, the city will keep the homes on property tax rolls, City Manager Michael Redlinger said. The recycled homes have a value of nearly $4 million, he said.
Recycling homes also is cheaper than destroying them, Redlinger said. The city also will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in demolition costs, and help the environment as well.
"The good thing about moving the house intact is not only do you retain the property value, but you're not filling up a landfill with remnants of a home that had to be destroyed," he said.
Redlinger said the city will build earthen levees on the vacant lots, which will eliminate the need for several hundred thousand sandbags.
The home buyouts are happening quickly in Moorhead, with state funding. But a few miles away, rural homeowners are still waiting for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy their homes.
Neighbors Steve Landsem and Larry Wesloh are worried about their homes on a quiet bend in the Red River south of Moorhead. Though the two houses are protected by an earthen levee, both lost their lower levels to last year's record flood.
In the lower level of the Landsems' home, what was a family room and kids bedrooms is now bare two-by-fours and piles of boxes, where there was nearly seven feet of water last spring.
"We didn't realize how much we used our basement til it was gone," Landsem said.
Landsem, his wife Cheryl and two teenage sons have been living on the upper level of their home since last spring. Clay County officials told them the deal would be done by December, but then FEMA announced there would be a delay until Congress appropriates more money.
"I was OK with the fact that we were going to get bought out," Landsem said. "But just seeing the damage day after day, and sitting here waiting for this to happen and being told, 'Nope, you have to wait and we can't tell you when it's going to happen.'"
County officials asked the family not to spend any money fixing their home, Landsem said. But they can't buy another home until they sell.
Meanwhile, the Landsems' heating bills are $300 a month higher this year because the lower level of the home is gutted. Every week, his bank calls to ask why he has not spent his flood insurance payment on repairs. He said the bank wants him to fix up the house despite the pending buyout, but county officials advise against it.
Next door neighbor Larry Weseloh is glad he and his wife can still live on one floor or their home. Some people waiting for buyouts are still paying the mortgage on a house they can't live in.
But Weseloh said they are feeling the stress of living in a partially demolished home.
"We find the stupidest things to argue about you'd ever believe. But that's just the way it is," he said. "The longer it goes on the more stress there is. We always thought we were pretty compatible, but I don't think we are right now."
The two neighbors say they've been told the buyouts could be delayed several months. That means facing another flood unprepared, Landsem said.
"We have lost the entire year of protecting our property, and doing stuff we needed to do to fight another flood this spring," Landsem said. "We were told, 'Don't do anything, don't do anything, we'll get you out of there.'"
County officials say they're ready to move on the buyouts, they're just waiting on FEMA to release money. FEMA officials say the agency is waiting on Congress to pass an emergency appropriation to replenish its funds.