Nearly 400 Ottawa County property owners, including the City of Miami, are seeking relief from the Grand River Dam Authority for damages sustained in floods since May of 2007.
The class could grow to exceed 1,000 plaintiffs, according to attorneys Larry Bork and Scott Rowland who filed the petition Nov. 26 in Ottawa County District Court.
The suit alleges the taking of property by GRDA in the instances in which water exceeded the authority’s easements, resulting in “frequent and substantial” damage to property and “impairing and destroying the plaintiffs’ use and enjoyment of their property.”
On behalf of more than 370 plaintiffs named in the suit, most of whom own property outside of GRDA flowage easements, Bork and Rowland assert that GRDA failed to employ proper means to acquire needed easements and has failed to pay plaintiffs just compensation.
Additionally, plaintiffs who owned property that is encumbered in whole or in part by flowage easements are seeking relief for the authority’s excessive use of the lake easements and the lengthy storage of water there — a condition that petitioners say is exacerbated by inadequate flowage easements for a lake that is repeatedly pushed beyond acceptable operating levels.
“In recent years, conditions have substantially changed as operating levels have been raised (and flood storage thereby reduced) by GRDA in order to enhance the generation of electricity for the public (at the expense of flood control,)” the suit states. “Also, GRDA has failed to pre-release. Additionally, the slow, tapered releases greatly extend the duration of water upon these easements contrary to earlier guidelines which mandated the release of flood waters as quickly as possible.”
The suit also addresses issues of erosion, strict liability and trespass.
Plaintiffs seek in excess of $50,000 in damages.
The GRDA maintains it is not responsible for flooding because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assumes control of Pensacola Dam, which impounds Grand Lake, in high-water situations. Releases have to be coordinated with other reservoirs in northeastern Oklahoma.
A GRDA spokesman said the authority had no comment on the lawsuit.
The suit is the second class-action to be filed against GRDA by Bork and Rowland.
The first was filed in 1994 and involved about 100 property owners who alleged that the operation of the Pensacola Dam by the authority caused flood damage to their property. It was ultimately decided by the courts that the existence of the Pensacola Dam causes a “significant increase” in the elevation and duration of flooding in Ottawa County. The court also determined that GRDA is liable for any and all damages caused by the increased elevation and duration of flooding.
It took 20 years for the 1994 case to conclude and for compensation to be released to the last of the class-action participants.
Bork said this week that the newest class-action suit should move at a fast pace. “What took so long before was dealing with GRDA defenses and claimed immunities,” Bork said. “Those shouldn’t be present in this case, so it should go significantly faster. Whether that is two years or five years, there is no way to predict.”
The City of Miami allocated $300,000 to conduct a study to prepare for the lawsuit and subsequently retained Bork as an attorney.
Ottawa County is not part of the class-action.