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Families to get $1M in flooding case

Flooding
Jan. 31, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON — A Wayne County jury has ordered the City of Huntington to pay more than $1 million to 18 families for damages incurred from flooding along Spring Valley Drive nearly two years ago.

The jury's verdict, announced this week, awarded $936,522.10 plus interest to the families, with payouts ranging from $7,970 to $169,208. The jurors concluded the city "negligently failed to maintain the storm water control system along Krouts Creek," which caused water to back up and flood Spring Valley on May 10, 2011.

The verdict marks the second time in almost three years a jury has found the city negligent in maintaining the storm control system. A 2010 jury verdict awarded 22 families nearly $775,000.

A complaint filed on behalf of the families in the Circuit Court of Wayne County stated that the 2010 jury "concluded the city was negligent in maintaining the system and was therefore responsible for causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage to residents." The complaint added the city knew it had a "nondiscretionary duty to maintain the system in order to avoid flooding, but knowingly, willfully and recklessly refused to do so."

"The jury in both cases clearly found fault with the city's failure to maintain storm water control systems," said Johnathan Marshall of Charleston's Bailey & Glasser, lead attorney for the residents. "With more than $1.7 million awarded from the two lawsuits, we trust the City of Huntington fully understands and will, in the future, take seriously its responsibility to these residents. No one wants this to happen again."

Huntington city attorney Scott McClure said the city carries insurance to cover the judgment. He added that Mayor Steve Williams will meet with the city's legal counsel in the case next week to discuss "what's taken place and what the course of action will be."

Heavy rains inundated Spring Valley Drive and many homes along it with several feet of water twice during the summer of 2006 and twice during the summer of 2009. Residents alleged in the lawsuit that the flooding occurred because of the city's failure to properly maintain a trash rack located at the mouth of a culvert that carries water from Krouts Creek under James River Road. The trash rack, designed to catch debris so storm water can flow through the culvert, was installed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2005 as part of a $3.5 million project intended to minimize flooding in Huntington's Westmoreland neighborhood.

Williams said the judgment prompts a need for the city to examine its responsibilities to a project that lies outside Huntington's city limits.

"If you take the full value of both judgments, that's a $1.7 million trash rack we have out there, and we need to take a very serious look at the protocols and processes we have in place. If we do indeed have that responsibility, we need to make sure that this never happens again," he said.

In 2010, attorneys representing the city argued that the trash rack's design was flawed both in size and slope. City officials said they were not aware the trash rack could cause flooding until after the first high water event in 2006, when city workers began cleaning debris from the rack frequently.

Legal documents allege that the city, citing safety concerns, decided to halt its efforts to keep the trash rack clear of debris during heavy rain in the spring of 2011. Residents reported that they called city officials in May 2011 to report the trash rack clogged. The complaint said the city's failure to act caused the families to experience flooding to a degree more severe than any of the previous floods.

In 2012, the Federal Emergency Management Agency purchased and demolished 14 properties that suffered repeated damage from flooding. Some of the homes were abandoned by their owners after a $1.2 million hazard mitigation grant and $500,000 state match were dispersed.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.

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