To help ensure that residents who will soon be offered money for their properties in the Kettle River floodplain will get a fair deal, some are pushing the City of Grand Forks to secure a negotiator for the residents’ behalf as well.
“We don’t have the money to get professional negotiators on our side,” said Jennifer Houghton, one property owner among approximately 140 whom the city plans on buying out over the course of the next few years, in order to move ahead with a major flood mitigation infrastructure plan. “The city is coming in with a team of experts and so we need expert help in the form of mediators to protect our interests too,” Houghton added.
In the request for proposals for a buyout team, published by the City of Grand Forks on Oct. 31, any successful project team is asked to “design an acquisition program […] for private land acquisition that makes best permitted use of available funds from senior governments and local government resources to support a fair and equitable agreement with property owners to maximize buy-in.”
The request goes on to say that “the desired outcome of the program is 100 per cent voluntary agreements achieved within the funding envelope of approximately $12,000,000, plus City in-kind supports.”
But sorting through the combination of potential mixed offers that contain a dollar value and in-kind supports can be tedious and specific, Houghton said – something that she and other homeowners may not have time or capacity for.
“I think at this point we can say it’s a really valid concern,” said Graham Watt, the city’s manager of flood recovery. “The underlying message that we’re really trying to reinforce here is that the city is really trying to represent the interests of everyone involved.”
Watt added that the city is looking at ways to accommodate some legal support to help residents understand their property rights, suggesting that “reasonable legal costs are also something that can be covered.
“We’re really hoping that through all of this, we can come to agreements that preserve people’s net worth,” Watt said.
The request for proposals closes Nov. 13. After that, the city hopes to meet with affected property owners on Nov. 26 to get their input on the process in order to get the land acquisition plan approved by council on Dec. 16.
Meanwhile, residents on the buyout list are encouraging others to join them in a rally on Nov. 15 at noon in Grand Forks at the 2nd Street bridge that spans the Kettle River, to show support for the residents getting a fair deal in the buyout process.