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Brookings flood victim sues city Print E-mail
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
August 01, 2014 08:55 pm

Memory Lane residents are keeping an eye on fellow neighbor David Smith, who is suing the city of Brookings in hopes of obtaining the former value of his oceanview home — before the storm of 2012 flooded his neighborhood.

That flood is still fresh in the minds of those whose houses were inundated with water that November night when storms powered by 80 mile-per-hour winds dumped 8 inches of rain on Curry County in two days.

Homes were flooded along South Bank Chetco River Road, a massive sinkhole opened up on Ransom Road, a sewer lift station fell to the ocean from Beach Avenue, and major water pipes were broken throughout town.

But those along Buena Vista Loop were arguably hit the hardest when a stormwater pipe became blocked with the onslaught of water and debris.

Six homes there filled with water, oceanview patios slumped to the beach below — and property values of those homes plummeted along with them.

And Smith wants the pre-storm value of his home. He declined to say how much the house is worth or for how much he is suing the city.

Blame simmering

Most of the residents there still blame the city, saying it should have designed drainage pipes to withstand such high water, and cleaned up ditches leading to the one that became blocked and overflowed across Memory Lane and into homes on the bluff.

The city maintains that the drainage pipe is equipped to handle stormwater almost twice that volume, and it is not to blame.

The outcome will be decided in court early next year in Smith’s “inverse condemnation” suit.

“They have made it worse,” he said of the current situation. “They have made (the house) not saleable for me. If I could sell it, it would be way below market value.”

Inverse condemnation occurs when a public entity takes or damages a private property without providing adequate compensation for it. Smith’s suit is asking for the value of his home — pre-storm.

He declined to discuss details of the case.

But other residents along his street are awaiting the outcome of his case: If Smith wins, it could set precedent for them. If he loses, they’re not certain if they will even proceed with work that needs to be done to stabilize the slopes and repair patios, two of which still hang precariously from the oceanside bluff.

“We’re in the wait-and-see (mode),” said Don Mitchell, noting that he is waiting for city planning department approval before work can begin to shore up the bank and strengthen a retaining wall. Who pays for that work will likely be determined by the outcome of Smith’s case. Others have retained attorneys, but have not yet submitted paperwork indicating they intend to sue.

 Mitchell has contractors ready to place giant nails into the hillside to stabilize it and build terraced gabion walls in the face of the bluff. Gary and Jill Maschmeyer, who lost part of their backyard area, forged ahead with stabilization work.

“It made no sense to get something started until we see what happens with Dave,” Gary said. “The most important thing is to to get the property stabilized and go from there.”

His home insurance didn’t pay for repair. Likewise with his neighbors. For some, it might mean dipping into their retirement savings — or hoping for remuneration from the city.

Mitchell agrees.

“The city is saying they’re blameless,” he said. “The government takes no responsibility when whatever they do causes damage. We pay taxes for infrastructure, but if the engineers didn’t do their job right, we suffer. Tough. We have no recourse.”

City officials, who declined comment in light of the litigation, have said in the past that the city’s drainage system is comprised of a mishmash of pipes, culverts and drains installed as homes were built over the decades. Pipes and culverts crisscross public and private land, making it even more difficult to determine who is responsible for maintaining them.

The night of the flood, city employees — even those with desk jobs — were out pulling debris from ditches in hopes of easing the flow of water.

It didn’t help that Buena Vista Loop is arguably the lowest point in town, and all stormwater from Highway 101 to the ocean flows that direction.

City officials have repeatedly noted that the drain in question, at South Buena Vista Loop and Memory Lane, was built to handle a 25-year storm.

“The problem was partially the debris, but in large part, it was the overwhelming amount of water that was dumped into the neighborhoods,” City Manager Gary Milliman said last September. “There was weedy material, plywood, larger vegetation, tarps, garbage bags — one drain had a Christmas tree entangled with a tarp; that was very effective in clogging the culvert.”

Mitchell laughs at the irony of construction that took place at that intersection last summer.

“They say, ‘We’re not responsible, but let us repair the pipe that’s perfectly OK?’” he said. “I think it’s been handled very poorly. I think the city should’ve stepped up. If they’d contracted for all (six homes), we could’ve worked out a payment. They could have done the repair and it could’ve been done for much cheaper than each of us individually.”

That discussion was held, as well, during city council meetings. Milliman said the option existed to create a Local Improvement District by which homeowners pay for specific repair, maintenance or improvements on infrastructure used by residents in that area, such as pipes and roads.

“We’re still living with this; hopefully it’ll be repaired here shortly,” Mitchell said. “We’re looking forward to the day this is fixed.”

Gary Maschmeyer shrugged.

“We paid off the house and moved here to kick back and relax,” he said. “Now we’ve got a $100,000 loan and a 30-year mortgage.”

Construction solution

One homeowner is happy.

“We have had no problems at all,” said Marvin Miller, who waded through ankle-deep flood waters as it raced down interior stairs into his sunroom almost two years ago. “It flooded underneath our house, in the garage, the sunroom, and the city’s insurance took care of it. We submitted the bill, and the insurance took care of it.

“Then they tore up the whole street and buried the problem,” he added. “I think we’re in very good shape.”

A study conducted by Dyer Engineering of Coos Bay, with whom the city often contracts work, determined the city is not at fault for the publicly owned drains, pipes and ditches, as the city exercised a “reasonable standard of care” in providing infrastructure built to withstand 25-year storms, a norm by which most Oregon municipalities abide. One weather analyst said the storm was a 45-year event, meaning rainfall of such intensity and duration can be expected to occur every 45 years or so.

Additionally, the firm said the drain inlet near Memory Lane and Buena Vista Loop was not defective, but recommended changes to improve its function.

That work took place last summer.

The storm brought to city engineers’ attention the many deficiencies in the system.

Television cameras snaked into pipes throughout town last summer were able to not only identify weak points in the system, but identify pipes for which there are no records on file. That often occurs as cities are built and developers install pipes and culverts on private property. City staff set to work re-creating that master plan.

Mitchell laughed when asked if there were a silver lining on the edge of the storm cloud.

“I think it brought (the neighbors) together,” he said. “We’ve become very good friends, sharing our misery.”

 

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