Tag Archives: North Dakota

Fargo, North Dakota, the Big Bully on the Red River

Sometimes, when the powers-that-be of Fargo do something completely below the belt of what’s fair and honorable, I just cannot keep my own mouth shut. A word here, I no longer send letters-to-the-editor to The Forum, because that newspaper is staunchly on the side of Fargo’s powers-that-be. Letters like the one below (against the high dam, not the diversion) are not published by the Forum, so for editorials the writers must go to the smaller city and newspaper to the south at Wahpeton, ND.
And not that my little blog post here will help, but when the powers-that-be go too far, as I said, I just can’t keep my mouth shut.


Oxbow’s annexation antics over the past six months should impress even Donald Trump. The dash for cash started by the Diversion Authority’s promise of a lucrative buyoff for the little community south of Fargo, has turned into a full blown leap for a golden ring.

Oxbow and the neighboring settlements of Hickson and Bakke used to peacefully coexist in the rural setting along the Red River, but no more. They began on the same side of opposing being flooded by a proposed dam on the Red. But DA chairman Daryl Vanyo’s claim that North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple demanded country club members at Oxbow be made happy or he wouldn’t fund their diversion, has changed that.

Last fall, Oxbow announced their intention to place Hickson and Bakke in their extraterritorial zone. That means they would have to follow Oxbow’s zoning rules. Oxbow handed their neighbors a 90 page book of rules dictating how they could create and maintain their property. Many of the new laws make it too expensive for the pocketbooks of current residents to improve or change their homes.

The residents weren’t happy, so they approached the city of Kindred to consider annexing their two little communities into their town. So Oxbow one-upped them. They annexed a 300 foot strip around the outside of Bakke and Hickson, effectively locking them under their control.

The 75 homeowners are now stuck under Oxbow’s zoning rules whether they like it or not. Oxbow couldn’t annex them, because the country club crowd that runs the city council would be outnumbered by Bakke and Hickson residents, along with residents of Oxbow that don’t align themselves with their mayor or city council.

A result of the annexation, was the inclusion of property owned by Kevin Bartram in Oxbow’s new city limits. That meant that Bartram qualified for a buyout based on the Memorandum of Understanding negotiated by Oxbow city leaders that provides purchase packages worth more than 400% of appraised property values.

Trump has got to be smiling at this one.

But residents of Bakke and Hickson may have dodged a bullet by not being annexed. Red flags are being waved by Fargo city commissioners, and other residents who object to the largesse thrown around by the DA with their tax money. Despite claims of a “rock solid MOU” by Oxbow’s mayor, one Fargo commissioner has suggested that ND’s attorney general to look into the spending practices of the DA. If governor Dalrymple’s demand to gratify Oxbow started this mess, perhaps he will have to be the one to stop it.
Again I will add Neil Young’s song about standing up to the powers-that-be, at least “that” is what I take from the song “Powderfinger.”
From the album, Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Powderfinger (Rust Never Sleeps) – 1979


The photo above shows the flood of 1997, that natural floodplain which Fargo wants to grow into,
Thanks to Vern Whitten Photography
For quite some time now I’ve been getting an email newsletter addressing Fargo, North Dakota’s perennial flooding problem, or rather, Fargo’s desire to grow south into the natural floodplain. And there is the key word: natural floodplain. In order to grow south and continue protecting their dazzling growth Fargo wants a high dam which would flood the communities south during flood times, in other words they want their neighbors to get flooded so Fargo doesn’t have to.
It’s all tied to the proposed diversion of the Red River of the North, a huge ditch to divert flood waters around Fargo and send it raging north, for the communities north to deal with it. Fargo no longer wants to. Fargo could build more dikes and other options to protect their city, but they don’t want to, they want to grow south and want other communities to get the heck out of their way!
As I said, I’ve been getting this newsletter. Fargo’s plan does not directly affect me (except that I think that town is big enough!) so I’ve just read the newsletters and did nothing else. This time I think the Diversion Authority (the DA) has gone too far. They don’t care that all the cemeteries in those southern communities will get flooded. Did you get that? They don’t care!
So, this time, not that it will help, but I’ve decided to re-publish the newsletter on my blog.

Editorial Team, Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority. For further information contact: Craig Hertsgaard is a Richland County farmer and member of the MnDak Upstream Coalition. Email: hertsfarm@juno.com. Telephone: 701-428-3059.

The Army Corps says the cost to protect the graves of those buried in cemeteries upstream of the diversion project is $14 million, and it’s not worth it.

The proposed Fargo diversion will cause those cemeteries to flood. They’re wrong, and it’s sad. They have already paid more than $10 million for a clubhouse at a private golf course, but a modicum of respect for the people who devoted all they had to give us life and a future isn’t worth it.

Residents of North Dakota and Minnesota should be ashamed over what is happening in the Red River Valley. Fargo’s plan to carve 20,000 acres out of the natural flood plain for future development means more than twice that much land must be flooded behind a dam when the Red River is high. Cemeteries in both states will be inundated with 8 feet of water for more than two weeks.

Watching relatives and neighbors care for our rural cemetery like it was their own back yard, knowing that someday it would be, was an education in culture and faith. I farm the land across the road from that graveyard. I watch people come in the evening, and sometimes early in the morning before work, standing or sitting by the graves of their loved ones. Some come from a long ways away to renew their ties with home. Often times, they come to find peace; perhaps peace from a long illness of a family member, or peace from an unresolved relationship. Most times, I think it is peace for ourselves, to know there will be respect for our lives when we’re gone.

Diversion planners say we’re not worth it. The pioneers that died of typhoid and tuberculosis are not important. The veterans that laid in foxholes and fence rows are inconvenient. The responsibility to raise a civilized society is to be subjugated by greed.

Fargo can protect its city without flooding 50,000 acres upstream. They say they can’t have their building spree without flooding our cemeteries. At society’s base, we are better than that. At least those buried in our graveyards are.
The last time I shared one of the Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority’s newsletters I posted this same song by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Powderfinger, from the 1979 album, “Rust Never Sleeps.” It tells the same story of the powers-that-be lording over lesser people.

Bullies, They Aren’t Just in the Schoolyard

This photo down the hill from my house gives further proof that flooding is out-of-control. Those 50-60-foot cottonwoods stood in 3 feet of water for 3 years, which finally killed most of them. They are standing on the original route of State Highway 18, which made them 50-60 years old. Didn’t make me happy to lose them, also had to move my garden.


The link takes you to a full screen photo (credit Vern Whitten Photography.) Flood of 1997, south of Fargo looking north. The dam would be built south of the interchange, which would send all that water upriver to small towns and communities where flooding has never been an issue.

Years ago I was heading north on Interstate 29, toward Fargo, North Dakota, population 100,000. Three or four miles south of the first exit there appeared a sign: Future Home of Rutten Park. “Wow,” I thought, “How much land do those people want?”

Not long after that I began finding out how much land they wanted. The Red River Valley consists of some of the richest farmland in the world and should not be paved over and turned into suburban lawns.

Fargo and south of Fargo is natural floodplain.

Fargo wants to grow south. But there’s a problem: ice jams and flooding. The Red River of the North forms the boundary between ND and MN and flows north, crosses the border to Canada and empties into the huge Lake Winnipeg. The problem happens in spring, when the snow is melting. The Red has a gigantic drainage basin that wants to send that melt-water north, all at the same time! Unfortunately, up north the river is still-frozen; therefore ice jams and flooding in the south.

In the flood of 1997, volunteers in Grand Forks, ND, feverishly tried to reinforce the dikes during a blizzard. The dikes broke and that water in just seconds and minutes flooded both Grand Forks and sister city, East Grand Forks in Minnesota. Fires broke out and firemen could not respond due to very deep water. Much of downtown Grand Forks burned. It was a heartbreaking sight that made national news and brought President Bill Clinton to visit.

Fargo mostly ducked that flood but she saw the future, and saw one (and only one) option to prevent future floods: the Fargo/Moorhead Diversion, an enormous ditch that would take the water around Fargo.

Right, the ditch would protect only Fargo.

Remember the Rutten Park sign? That’s about where Fargo wants to grow to (land totally in the floodplain.) They want to build a dam farther south to protect that future growth. Oh, and that dam would cause the flooding of the farms and small towns that—now get this—have never had a major issue with flooding before. Much of that staging area has never flooded.

The diversion monies (much of it federal) have not appeared—go figure: the country is broke. Part of those monies would go for that dam and for building ring-dikes around the small towns and communities. No mention for the farmers affected. I mean they can’t exactly ring-dike all the thousands of acres Fargo wants to affect as their so-called “staging area.”

It should be mentioned that sixteen cemeteries are included in that staging area.

Guess what? The communities affected are fighting back, and are sometimes accused of being anti-diversion, which they aren’t. Everybody knows and agrees that Fargo needs protection from flooding.

Sister city, Moorhead, MN, Grand Forks, and East Grand Forks, have all made improvements: moved houses and businesses out of flood-prone areas, creating “greenways, built better dikes, etcetera, and Fargo has done some similar things, but not enough. They want their way. They want the diversion, and they want that dam to protect their future growth into the floodplain.

One of Fargo’s city leaders is on record saying, we aren’t “…a bully…” or “…bullies…” something like that. I’d like to know what he would call it.
The last word: Fargo is 35 miles from me. I shop there. I have friends and family there. I want Fargo to stay afloat (after all—even though not one iota of the movie was filmed there, Fargo is where the title of the movie “Fargo” came from.)

But a bully is a bully. Fargo can control her flooding by other means than flooding her good southern neighbors.

Here’s a favorite song to illustrate the powers-that-be, “Powderfinger” from the 1978 album by Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Rust Never Sleeps.)

In the song, a bit naïve 22-year-old lad—left “to do the thinkin’”—is on the dock watching a boat in the distance slowly approaching. He’s holding his “daddy’s rifle” and he senses the boat is bringing the authorities…and he senses life-changing intent, from those authorities, but his naivety would prevent him from ever expressing those feelings into spoken words.

I chose this song because the people living on farms near Fargo can see the city coming. They are not naïve. Their future is as unstoppable as that boat; the owners of those farms know their farms will be swallowed up, and, like the lad in the song, they know nothing can stop nothing.