After many low-lying homes were swamped with floodwaters in 2018, the City of Grand Forks said it wanted to buy dozens of properties in the North and South Ruckle neighbourhoods and convert the area into a green space.
Two years after the waters receded, it’s now making offers on those properties.
Don and Beverly Bedard said the waters that flooded their home were contaminated from the sewage treatment plant, and they had to spend about a week sleeping on cots in an evacuation centre.
The couple said they have since been waiting for answers from the city about what was going to happen to their property.
“It is just very frustrating that it’s taken so long,” Beverley said.
The City of Grand Forks recently made the couple an offer to buy their property, but Don said they didn’t initially accept.
“I went back with minor suggestions,” he said. “They said there was no place within their system at this point for negotiations.”
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“We’re dictated to. We’re bullied a little bit with their training: they’re professional negotiators. We’re old folks. I’ve never negotiated anything like this at all.”
The city said there is an appeal process, and property owners can come in with their own appraisal.
However, the Bedards said they eventually took the offer because they didn’t want the buyout process to drag on any longer.
“It wasn’t quite where we wanted, and it certainly wasn’t a replacement offer that we had enough money to go and buy what we already have,” Don said.
“And of course, the virus now has added pressure to living and money, and so it’s just all come together at a bad time now,” he added.
According to a city press release, its land acquisition team is expecting a 90 per cent voluntary acceptance rate on the buyout program.
“That’s good in one way, that people are trying to get on with their lives, but it is making it hard because a lot of people cannot afford to relocate,” Beverley said.
For two years, Grand Forks resident Dave Bowen has lived in a half-gutted home that was hit hard by the floods.
He said he’s relieved he won’t have to spend another winter in the house.
“I thought the offer was fair,” Bowen said. “It’s never going to get me half an acre of riverfront downtown Grand Forks. There’s absolutely no way.”
“But, however, under the circumstances, it’s going to give me a start,” he said.
Bowen said he wants to live in a cottage.
“On my own property, with a tree and a patch of grass and a chair to sit under it,” he said. “That’s all I’m asking for.”
Bowen said it was wonderful to know he was finally getting the money after dealing with the stress for the last two years.
There are approximately 80 properties with dwellings on them that the city is looking to buy, Grand Forks flood recovery manager Graham Watt said.
By Thursday afternoon, 73 offers had gone out, and 52 had been accepted, he added.
“As of this time, we’ve actually signed quite a few of the cheques, and people have received and closed and started handing over their keys,” Watt said.
The cost of the buyout program is expected to total approximately $17 million.
After facing protests earlier this year from angry residents, Grand Forks mayor Brian Taylor said he believes the latest offers are fair and is relieved that they have gone out.
“Once it all came down to offers and looking at the realities, their property values have gone up,” Taylor said. “I think that people were pleasantly surprised at the offers we put on the table.”
“We’re hoping that everybody gets an opportunity to stay in Grand Forks,” he said, adding that the city is still looking at other options, like a land swap.
Although every contract is different, the city is allowing some residents to stay in their homes for the next year or so as they house hunt, Watt said.
Residents will be given an initial lump sum, with the remainder of the contract price paid out when they leave the property, he added.