What are the steps of the land acquisition process?

Each situation may vary to some degree; however the typical process that one may expect is as follows;

  • Right of Entry from Homeowner (ROE)
  • Survey of property
  • Title evidence
  • Appraisal
  • Letter of just compensation
  • Negotiations (if necessary)
  • Determination of relocation assistance benefits
  • Closing/Payment
  • Vacating property

For more information on the process for acquisitions, please go to the web site of the Federal Highway Administration, which is the agency that maintains resources for all federal acquisition policies. The web site is www.fhwa.dot.gov.

What is the land acquisition timeline? When is the earliest that I would be required to vacate my property if I live in an impacted area?

At this point, this is a difficult question to answer.  The exact timing of any buyouts is unknown.  The Fargo-Moorhead Flood Risk Management Project is in the design stage, and buyouts will begin upon Congress authorizing and funding the project and the signing of a Project Partnership Agreement.

The Authority will be considering several early acquisition policies, including a policy to acquire properties within defined hardship criteria prior to project authorization, and following project authorization a recommendation to advance the acquisition of properties within communities such as Oxbow, Hickson, and Bakke.  Any policies like this will need the approval of the full Board of Authority and will be subject to available funding.

Do I have to accept what is offered for my property? What is my recourse if I don’t agree with the offer?

The value of the property will be determined by an independent licensed appraiser familiar with your particular type of property and real estate values in the area.  When the appraiser begins his or her work, you will have the opportunity to meet to point out specific aspects of your property and present any descriptive information you feel will be helpful in determining its fair market value.  The fair market value will be determined without consideration of the effect of the project on the value. 

After the appraiser completes the work, and it is reviewed and approved by the Corps Real Estate office, an offer will be prepared and presented to you in writing, together with a copy of the detailed appraisal.  You will have a specific negotiator to work with who will answer any questions in a timely and confidential manner and assist you in the negotiation process.  If you don’t agree with the offer, you may present supplemental information to the negotiator for consideration or request an independent appraisal at the local sponsor’s expense. This supplemental information may pertain to items you feel the appraiser may have missed or should have considered differently.  The negotiator will present your information for consideration by a staff representative of the Diversion Authority.  The staff representative will consider the information provided and may recommend approval, partial approval, or disapproval of your requested revision.  Any negotiated settlement must also be approved by the Corps Real Estate office.  Every attempt will be made to engage in a fair, open, and honest offer and negotiation process, and arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement.

As a last resort, you have the opportunity to have the value determined by a court of law, but we have found this to be necessary only in very rare instances and don’t wish the process to proceed to this point.

Once I have been acquired, how long will I have to vacate my property?

In most cases, a minimum 90 day notice following identification of a comparable dwelling must be provided to vacate property. If construction schedule permits, reasonable extension may be considered for extenuating circumstances.

Will I be offered salvage of my structure?

In most cases, the property owner will be offered first right for salvage of any structure, with the understanding the structure must be removed by a specified date.

Once my property in the Storage (or Staging) Area is acquired, will someone else be allowed to purchase it at a later date (such as a developer)?

Property purchased could be later offered for sale after all structures are removed and the property is cleaned up and restored appropriately.  If the property is offered for purchase, flowage easements will be in place restricting future uses to agriculture, recreation, or other purposes compatible with periodic inundation. Construction of structures will also be restricted, which would also make it generally unsuitable for development.

How will the value of my property be determined?

An independent appraiser approved by the Corps Real Estate office will be assigned to determine the value of each property to be acquired.  The appraisal firm will be retained by the local sponsor and must have the following qualifications:

  • Licensed in the state in which the appraisal is performed
  • Familiar with federal acquisition procedures
  • Familiar with the locality and specific type of property interest to be appraised

The assigned appraiser will proceed as follows:

  • The appraiser will contact the property owner and arrange a schedule to inspect the property.  The property owner will have the opportunity to meet with the appraiser and furnish and information they feel is important.
  • In the case of partial acquisition, the appraiser will request a surveyor provide stakes to accurately define affected areas.
  • Information will be gathered from the inspection and other sources.
  • Comparable property information will be collected from a data book of background information.
  • All comparable properties will be inspected to determine similarity factors.
  • Comparative analysis will be used to determine the value of the property “before” acquisition.  It is important to note the appraisal will be performed as if the project were not going to occur, thereby negating influence on value caused by the project.
  • If the land rights acquired involve a partial taking, a comparative analysis will be used to determine the value of property “after” acquisition.
  • Damages for temporary acquisition, such as for temporary construction easements, will be calculated, as applicable.
  • In the case of partial acquisitions, additional damages and/or benefits to the remainder (severance damages) will be determined, as applicable.
  • Conclusions and reconciliations will be determined and all work will be checked by a second appraiser, then an appraisal report will be prepared.

During the appraisal process, appraisers will consider three approaches to value: the Cost Approach, Market Approach, and Income Approach.  Not every appraisal will use all three approaches, but the appraiser will determine the applicability of the approaches and will weigh and reconcile the value indicators to arrive at a single estimated value of the property.

The completed appraisal report will be submitted to a review appraiser in the USACE Real Estate Division.  The review appraiser will analyze the report for content and comment on the conclusions.  If needed, adjustments will be made and the Final Appraisal Report submitted to the Diversion Authority.

Once I am approached to sell my property, how long will the process take before I receive my money and be able to move?

We anticipate the typical process to take anywhere from seven to thirteen months.  The actual time will be dependent on your specific situation.  Issues that could delay the process are title problems, agreement on just compensation, and availability of comparable housing in determining the amount of relocation assistance benefits you may be eligible for.

I just received a letter from the St. Paul District, USACE, saying they need access to my property to conduct initial survey activities. Does that mean that my property is going to be acquired for this project?

Not necessarily. It means access is needed to come on your property to obtain additional information to assist in the final design of specific project features. Examples of the types of information that may be needed are location of existing utilities, geotechnical borings, surveys, cultural/historic preservation analysis, and Phase I Hazardous Toxic Radioactive Waste (HTRW) evaluations. The HTRW evaluation may sound somewhat frightening, but usually, for residential structures, it involves the assessment of any lead paint, asbestos, or the presence of soil contaminated by oil.

How soon after an initial USACE survey will I need to vacate the property?

If it is determined that your property is needed for the project, a Flood Diversion Authority representative will contact you to start the acquisition process. The exact timing to initiate the acquisition process will be based on when your property is required for construction. The process may take anywhere from seven to thirteen months depending on your specific situation.