Gary Redlin's property near Hickson is within the proposed area for a holding pond that would store water in times of major flooding.
Gary Redlin is among residents in southern Cass County who are so unhappy with part of a plan to divert the Red River that they're asking voters to let them secede from the state's most populous county.
Barring that, the 73-year-old Redlin jokes about moving to the desert or the mountains.
Redlin's property near Hickson is within the proposed area for a holding pond that would store water in times of major flooding. Redlin, who has lived there for nearly 40 years, said the plan has diminished the value of his property and he has not been offered a buyout.
"I'm in limbo," he said. "We're not against the diversion. I want to get that out right away. It's the dam that we're fighting."
In the meantime, Redlin and some other residents who believe their elected officials are ignoring them are trying to make a point at the voting booth.
They were able to gather enough signatures to win a ballot question that, if approved, would mean that nearly 500 people from the township south of Fargo would forsake Cass County in favor of being annexed into neighboring Richland County. The measure is on ballots in only the two counties and must pass by a majority in both.
Supporters acknowledge it's longshot, but they're hoping the measure draws attention to their cause. Their advertising budget for the measure is zero.
"Hopefully people will realize it's not just open ground out here, it's people living here," said Greg Hanson, of Hickson, who helped organize the petition campaign to put the issue to a vote. "I would like people to look at the measure and say, well, if they want to go, let them."
Hanson said Cass County was a good place to live "when they left us alone."
It's not the first time Redlin has looked at the prospect of giving up land for water. He was a teenager when his father's house and range land in North Dakota were bought out by the government for construction of the Garrison Dam in the early 1950s. The town where he lived, Van Hook, is now under Lake Sakakawea.
"To get hit twice is difficult," Redlin said. "At least with the reservoir, they got some power and some recreation. They got something out of it. This dam is flooding stuff that has never been flooded.
"I might have to move to the desert or the mountains," he said.
Lillian Johnson, 89, a longtime Hickson resident, said she has mixed feelings on the secession measure but supports anything that will help. She stands to lose more than her 100-year-old house.
"It's heartbreaking, not for myself, but for the generations to come," she said. "A house is just a house, but when you touch on your church and your community and all the livelihoods to come, it hurts."
The 36-mile diversion would move water from the north-flowing Red River around Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., which battled major flooding for three straight years starting with a record crest in 2009. The White House has signed off on the $2 billion project, but it still needs approval from Congress.
Cass County commissioners have said they sympathize with the residents living in the area, but they deny not listening to their complaints and point to numerous public hearings that have been conducted. All four candidates for the two open county commission seats — Chad Peterson, Brandy Pyle, Mary Scherling and Rocky Schneider — are opposed to the ballot measure.
Schneider said a recent plan that allows quicker buyouts for residents with medical issues or facing other hardships, along with a proposal for a ring dike around some residential areas, are better ideas than secession.
"I think they are trying to come up with solutions to save as many homes as possible and limit as many of the negative consequences as possible," Schneider said. "I think history has kind of shown us that political secession has not been an effective means of problem solving."
Scherling calls the measure a misguided attempt to derail the diversion. She said Cass County residents have invested in 20 miles of paved roads, seven bridges, 24 flood buyouts and thousands of dollars in other flood protection for Pleasant Township.
Cass County officials have said the township residents would see higher taxes with a move to Richland County.
"For those Pleasant Township residents it's not a money issue, it's about representation," Pyle said. "I don't think there's an easy answer, but I think like any issue it's about sitting down at the table and hashing it out."
Peterson added: "They don't think they have an advocate on the diversion authority that's even asking any questions. I don't know if I agree with that, but that's their perception. And we all know perception can become reality."