Judge Rules In Miami Flooding Lawsuit

Saturday, November 6th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A class action lawsuit alleging the Grand River Dam Authority is to blame for flooding in northeast Oklahoma will be settled by trial, a judge has ruled.

District Judge Robert Reavis ruled against the GRDA on Friday in ordering the trial on issues of liability and damages.

The more than 100 plaintiffs include area landowners, businesses and city and county governments. They are seeking in excess of $22 million for flood damage to property between 1992 to 1995.

The judge rejected plaintiffs' claims of nuisance and a requested injunction against the dam's operation.

Mayor Louis E. "Red" Mathia, who lost cars at his salvage yard to flooding, attended the hearing Friday in Ottawa County District Court and was hopeful a trial would bring an end to four years of litigation.

"At least we will maybe get a decision brought to a head," he said. "My personal feeling is it's not the money value. I want them to keep water off my property."

Plaintiffs accused GRDA of mismanaging the dam by raising water levels on Grand Lake and causing upriver, or backwater, flooding on the Neosho River, which feeds the lake.

GRDA General Counsel Allen Pease said an appeal of Friday's decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court is likely within the next 30 days.

"If the Supreme Court agrees to hear this appeal, both parties could avoid a lengthy and costly jury trial," Pease said.

GRDA officials blame the flooding on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its management of water levels on the dam during flood conditions. GRDA says the corps also is responsible for purchasing easements to manage overflow.

"This lawsuit places us at a real crossroads," Dick Horkey, chairman of GRDA's board of directors, said in a news release. "We want to see the flooding problems solved, but GRDA cannot remedy a situation that we do not control."

GRDA argues that it is protected by the statute of limitations and statute of repose. It also argues that it should be entitled to share immunity with the United States because it serves as an agent of flood control at the direction of the Corps.

Mathia contends GRDA is responsible because the lake levels it maintains.

"The Corps of Engineers does not take over until it's too late," he said, adding that he also was frustrated with the corps for failing to keep "a close enough eye" on lake levels.