Flood Fighter Ends Battle With City to Save Home

By DAVE KOLPACK | June 5, 2017

A onetime North Dakota Teacher of the Year who received help from students and faculty to ward off several Red River floods has decided he can no longer fight both the river and Fargo officials who wanted his house off the flood plain.

Like his wife and mother-in-law before him, Jim Papacek had planned to spend his dying days in the central Fargo home where he lived for nearly half a century. Papacek’s haggling over the value of his home ended peacefully when the city upped its price for the three-bedroom rambler that included three additions over the years

In the days leading up to demolition, Papacek battled mixed emotions while taking out the last remnants of his handiwork.

“I don’t know if I can fight a major flood again,” Papacek said. “The other consideration is that I knew I would have to put more money into it. The two of those things would render it impossible to stay.”

Papacek, 72, was a prominent figure in the record-setting 2009 flood in Fargo that destroyed about 100 structures and caused millions of dollars in damage. It took a massive sandbagging effort from former students and others to save his house on South River Road in the Belmont Park neighborhood. The scene was repeated in 2010 and 2011.

Since then, the city has bought out 198 homes near the Red River at a value of nearly $66 million. Of those, 138 were voluntary buyouts and 60 were sold through appraisals. Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said 28 homes are facing acquisition through eminent domain.

City officials have tried to be cognizant of the grieving process involved with losing a home, Mahoney said.

“You have disbelief, you have sorrow, you have grief, you have anger, and then there’s an acceptance,” Mahoney said. “We are continuing to try to solve the issue with voluntary buyouts.”

After the 2009 flood, Papacek’s house was assessed at about $175,000. Last fall he sealed the deal that calls for the city to pay $308,000 for the home, as well as $5,000 in moving expenses. He said he has “nothing but good” to say about the way the city handled final negotiations.

Papacek also said he was grateful to be allowed back into his home to remove paving stones, cupboards, fixtures and other items that he hopes to resurrect for his next residence. Some items had to be left behind, including a knife drawer and kitchen countertops that he installed so securely they could not be moved.

“There still were some dreams. There was supposed to be a gazebo out there,” Papacek said, pointing to an area off the back patio.”But that will never happen now.”

One of Papacek’s neighbors, John Stern, is continuing his fight to save his home that was designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright family. He will soon hear whether the house is approved for the National Register of Historic Places, which he hopes might give him some sway. The city has put off a decision on the home until next year.

Stern stopped by one day to help Papacek take out a water heater.

“I will miss my friends. Good friends, they helped me sandbag. Lovely people.” Papacek said. “This is a good neighborhood. I am going to miss that more than anything.”

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